Protesters react to the dead body of Jewish man Paul Kessler in California. — Ventura County sheriff’s office A Jewish man lost his life after falling backwards and hitting his skull during a confrontation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian street demonstrations in California.
A day following the confrontation on Sunday, Paul Kessler, 69, passed away from blunt force head injuries, according to the Ventura County sheriff’s office, which also stated that witnesses reported the event as violence.
Although the act “appears to be isolated and not part of a large effort,” the sheriff’s office stated that as of Monday night, no suspects were in custody and that the possibility of it being a hate crime had not been ruled out.
According to the sheriff’s office, there were concurrent pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests on Sunday in Thousand Oaks, which is located around 40 miles (65 km) west of Los Angeles.
Citing witness testimonies, the sheriff’s office stated that Kessler was a part of a violent brawl with counterprotesters. The party that started the fight was not made clear.
“During the altercation, Kessler fell backwards and struck his head on the ground. Kessler was transported to an area hospital for advanced medical treatment. On 6 November 2023, Kessler succumbed to his injuries,” the statement said.
Deputies asked the public for help in what it called “an active and ongoing investigation”.
Rabbi Noah Farkas, the president and chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said: “This is what’s happening in America right now. There is a culture of fear and a culture of really terror against the Jewish community happening.”
Since the Hamas attack on October 7, US officials and civil rights organisations have warned of rising threats against Jews, Muslims, and Arab Americans, causing strong emotions to run high in the US over the war between Israel and Hamas.
An Illinois man was charged with hate crimes last month after killing a six-year-old Muslim kid with a knife and seriously wounded his mother in an alleged attack that was directed at Muslims as a reaction to the war on account of their faith.
The victim was recognised as Jewish by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which also noted that this was the second antisemitic incident in the LA region this year and the fourth since Hamas’s October 7 attacks in southern Israel.
According to Farkas, Kessler comes from a family of philanthropists who were grieved by his passing. Kessler was holding an Israeli flag throughout the protest.
The Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations civil rights group expressed grief over what it called a “tragic and shocking loss”, while also asking people to “refrain from jumping to conclusions” or “sensationalising such a tragedy for political gains”.