Jewish man dies from injuries sustained at pro-Palestinian rally

Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff speaks during a press conference on Nov. 7, 2023, on the death of an elderly Jewish man who succombed to injuries sustsained during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in California.
Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff speaks during a press conference on Nov. 7, 2023, on the death of an elderly Jewish man who succombed to injuries sustsained during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in California. | YouTube/Reuters

An elderly Jewish man died earlier this week as a result of injuries he sustained during a confrontation with pro-Palestinian protestors at a demonstration in southern California over the Israel-Hamas war, authorities say.

Paul Kessler, 69, died in the hospital early Monday morning after suffering a head injury during the demonstration on Sunday, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, which noted it has "not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime."

"No arrest have been made in the Mr. Kessler’s death investigation and there is no new information at this time," a spokesperson for the Ventura County Sheriff's Office told The Christian Post in a statement Thursday.

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"The Ventura County Sheriff's Office continues to work diligently on this case, but we do not want to compromise the integrity of the investigation by releasing incomplete or inaccurate information."

Witnesses at the event, which took place at an intersection in Thousand Oaks outside Los Angeles, claimed to have seen Kessler fall backward and strike his head on the ground, the sheriff's office noted.

Kessler was taken to an area hospital before succumbing to his injuries the next day, police said, adding that the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office determined his manner of death to be a homicide caused by a blunt force injury to the head. 

Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said during a press conference Tuesday that authorities had received conflicting information about the incident and urged anyone with video to provide it to police. 

Fryhoff said Kessler was among a group of demonstrators who showed up to express support for Israel at what was promoted as a peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Approximately 75 people attended, and a sheriff's patrol that went through about 15 minutes before the incident saw no reason to believe violence was about to break out, he said.

The sheriff said authorities briefly detained and searched the home of a 50-year-old suspect whose identity they have not released. The suspect was reportedly pro-Palestinian and waited at the scene for authorities to respond after calling 911 following the incident.

Because of inconsistent witness reports, it remains unclear what the altercation was and who the aggressor was.

Regarding rumors that Kessler had been struck in the head with a megaphone, the sheriff said, "The medical examiner has said the injuries on the face could have been caused by a megaphone."

An autopsy revealed non-lethal injuries to the left side of Kessler's face and injuries to the back of the head consistent with those typically sustained from a fall. 

The manner of death being labeled a homicide is a "legal determination" and doesn't necessarily mean that a crime has been committed, Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner Christopher Young said during the press conference. 

The sheriff urged the public not to jump to conclusions and to "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."

The Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) echoed Fryhoff by urging calm and caution, saying in a statement that they were "deeply saddened by this tragic and shocking loss."

"We join local Jewish leaders in calling on all individuals to refrain from jumping to conclusions, sensationalizing such a tragedy for political gains, or spreading rumors that could unnecessarily escalate tensions that are already at an all-time high," the organization said.

"We urge everyone to wait for the Ventura County Sheriff's Office to complete its investigation before drawing any conclusions. Our thoughts are with the family and the Jewish community during this difficult time."

CAIR-LA added that their organization and "the Muslim community stand with the Jewish community in rejecting any and all violence, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or incitement of hatred."

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles noted in a statement that while they await the results of the law enforcement investigation, the incident against Kessler is "the fourth major antisemitic crime committed in Los Angeles this year alone."

"Violence against our people has no place in civilized society," the statement continued. "We demand safety. We will not tolerate violence against our community. We will do everything in our power to prevent it."

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement upon news of Kessler's death, writing on X that they "are heartbroken to learn that an elderly Jewish man died after an apparent confrontation at a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Westlake, CA."

"We call on law enforcement to launch a thorough investigation to determine who is responsible and what was the motivation for this tragic and senseless death," the ADL added.

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