By Ben Sales
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — 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.
JTA calls to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and Misaskim, a local group that assists with Jewish burial, were not immediately returned. “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 says. “Our hearts are with the family of the victim.”
Kessler’s death occurred a month into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which began after the terror group invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing and wounding thousands. 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.”