Man on ground being helped(l), Protesters(r)

ABC7

Elderly Jewish man dies of injuries during altercation at pro-Palestine protest—sparking accusations as police hunt for suspect

Tensions run high as people wait for more information

 

Katherine Huggins

Tech

Paul Kessler, 69, a Jewish man, died Monday after being injured during an altercation at dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestine rallies outside of Los Angeles.

According to the local sheriff’s office, Kessler fell backward and struck his head on the ground during the altercation. The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death homicide.

The county’s chief medical officer, Dr. Christopher Young said Kessler’s injuries were consistent with that of a fall and a ruling of the death being a homicide does not necessarily indicate that a crime has been committed.

Kessler’s condition was listed as critical when he arrived at the hospital and was still conscious when deputies arrived.

Police said they were searching for a 50-year-old suspect who participated in the pro-Palestine side of the rally. Deputies executed a search warrant but no arrests have been made and the suspect has not been publicly identified.

“During this time, we urge you to remain calm, peaceful, and patient. We understand that you may have questions and concerns,” Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff said at a press conference. “We ask that you allow us to conduct our investigation and we will provide updates as soon as we can. We also ask that you refrain from spreading rumors, or spreading misinformation on social media or other platforms as that can not only hinder our investigation, but it can cause unnecessary panic in our community.”

Authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.

Video of Kessler bleeding on the ground has gone viral on social media, as have images of him holding an Israeli flag moments before the altercation.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and others also said Kessler was “struck in the head by a megaphone wielded by a pro-Palestinian protestor.”

A local rabbi pleaded on X not to “make assumptions or accusations until the police can do their job and/or we get real video,” noting that authorities were seeking video of the altercation itself—not just the aftermath.

The rabbi’s post came amid a wave of outrage and claims that have not yet been verified by authorities, including conflicting reports about whether he was pushed or fell.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations similarly urged people to wait for the completion of the investigation “before drawing any conclusions.”

“While we strongly support the right of political debate, CAIR-LA and the Muslim community stand with the Jewish community in rejecting any and all violence, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or incitement of hatred,” CAIR added.

One of the organizers of the pro-Palestine rally, the Conejo Valley Antifascists, said on X that “violence at any demonstration is wrong” and said they would soon share news “about the tragic loss of life over the weekend.

“There are irresponsible assumptions and accusations flying around,” the group said. “We have facts not yet reported that may surprise some in our community. We are heartbroken and will have more to share soon.”

But despite the calls to wait for more information, Kessler’s death has fueled both outrage and concern.

“Yesterday, an elderly Jewish man named Paul Kessler was murdered for attending a pro-Israel event in CA,” wrote Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). “This shocking hate crime is yet another chapter in the vile anti-Semitism sweeping our country.”

“Paul Kessler is the Jewish George Floyd, murdered in an antisemitic hate crime. Where is the outrage?” wrote another user, despite the possibility of a hate crime still being under investigation.

“Paul Kessler was killed in Los Angeles because he was a Jew. It is not because of Gaza, it is because of antisemitism,” said centrist Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid. “This is what happens when protesters glorify Hamas and call to ‘globalize the intifada.’ They don’t love Palestinians, they hate Jews.”

“The year is 2023 and Jews are still being murdered just for being Jews. The murderer must be caught and put on trial for this horrific crime,” wrote former Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon.

Kessler’s death comes as Jews and Muslims have experienced an increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents since the start of Israel’s war against Hamas.

According to advocacy groups, reported cases of antisemitism are up 388% and Islamophobic incidents are up 182% in the U.S. since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

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