A Jewish man has died after a pro-Palestinian protester struck him in the head with a megaphone on Sunday, according to the local Jewish federation.
The altercation occurred at a pro-Palestinian protest on Sunday that assembles weekly in Westlake Village in the Los Angeles area. According to a statement by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and a police report, the man, Paul Kessler, 69, was struck in the head with a megaphone held by one of the protesters and died of his wounds on Monday.
A statement Monday night from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office ruled the death a homicide and confirmed many of the details in the federation’s statement. It said it “has not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.”
The police statement said Kessler “died as a result of injuries sustained during an altercation at a Pro-Israeli/Pro-Palestinian event, both of which were occurring simultaneously.” Elsewhere, the Sheriff’s Office describes Kessler as a “pro-Israeli protester.”
“Witness accounts indicated that Kessler was involved in a physical altercation with counter-protestor(s),” the statement said. “During the altercation, Kessler fell backwards and struck his head on the ground.”
A brief video circulating on social media shows an elderly man in a blue-and-white striped short-sleeve shirt and jeans lying on a sidewalk and clutching his head in a pool of blood. A woman wearing pro-Palestinian symbols crouches down to tend to him, as does another man wearing nearly the same outfit as Kessler. An Israeli flag is leaning against a nearby wall.
“We are devastated to learn of the tragic death of an elderly Jewish man who was struck in the head by a megaphone wielded by a pro-Palestinian protestor in Westlake Village,” the federation statement said. “Our hearts are with the family of the victim.”
No arrests have been announced.
Local rabbi Michael Barclay tweeted that he had spoken with the local police chief and said the circumstances surrounding Kessler’s death were still unclear.
A Jewish man named “Paul” has died in hospital after having been hit in the head by an anti-Israel protester in Los Angeles.
He is the first Jewish person to have been killed during an anti-Israel protest in the West. pic.twitter.com/bCHzkbKm0k
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) November 7, 2023
“It is not clear yet exactly what happened other than an elderly Jew was counter-protesting at a Gazan demonstration, hit the ground, and died. We DO NOT KNOW at this time if he fell, was pushed, or was attacked. Please do not spread rumors. We will know soon what happened,” Barclay wrote.
He later added that police have conflicting reports of what happened and have interviewed a suspect who was identified on social media as having been at the event.
Barclay said that police do not have video of the moments leading up to when Kessler landed on the ground. Kessler’s phone is believed to have footage from the altercation and police are working to get it unlocked, according to local affiliate NBC4.
The rabbi added that the police chief informed him that the implication of a homicide charge “can range from an accident to intentional murder and anywhere in between.”
Calls to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and Misaskim, a local group that assists with Jewish burial, were not immediately returned. The federation said in its statement that it is awaiting more information from law enforcement.
“An autopsy was performed on November 6th and the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death homicide.” pic.twitter.com/j1Bp0rnjvz
— Joanna Mendelson (@jo_mendelson) November 7, 2023
The death occurred a month into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which began after the terror group invaded Israel on Oct. 7, massacring 1,400 people and wounding thousands, mostly civilians. Mass pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations have occurred nationwide and globally, and officials have warned of rising antisemitism and islamophobia in the weeks since Oct. 7. While other physical altercations and assaults have taken place surrounding protests or the hanging of posters, this is the first death reported due to a protest connected to the war.
The federation’s statement also referenced previous antisemitic incidents in the area this year, including the arrest of a man in February who shot two men outside their synagogues. On Oct. 26, a man was arrested after breaking into a Jewish family’s home and saying he wanted to kill Jews. The suspect in that case did not injure anyone.
“We remind you that this is the fourth major antisemitic crime committed in Los Angeles this year alone,” the statement said. “Violence against our people has no place in civilized society. We demand safety. We will not tolerate violence against our community. We will do everything in our power to prevent it.”