Jewish man dies after confrontation with pro-Palestinian protesters in Thousand Oaks

ByLeanne Suter and staff KABC logo
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
Jewish man dies after confrontation during dueling protests in SoCal
A Jewish man in his 60s died after he was injured in an altercation at a pro-Palestinian rally in Thousand Oaks, authorities say.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (KABC) -- A 69-year-old Jewish man died a day after he was injured in an altercation at a pro-Palestinian rally in Thousand Oaks, authorities say.

Paul Kessler died as a result of injuries he sustained at the event Sunday, Ventura County Sheriff's Office investigators say.

Find our latest updates on the investigation into the death of Paul Kressler here I Funeral to be held for Jewish man who died after confrontation with protesters in Thousand Oaks

There were two competing rallies near Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards in favor of the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the current conflict, according to the sheriff's office.

It is believed Kessler was involved in an altercation with pro-Palestinian demonstrators when he was injured. He then fell and hit his head on the ground, according to the sheriff's office.

The nature of the altercation remains under investigation but some reports indicate that before he fell, Kessler was struck in the head with a megaphone by an individual with the pro-Palestinian event.

He was pronounced deceased on Monday.

The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office has determined Kessler's death to be a homicide caused by blunt force head injury.

"The Ventura County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident and has not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime," the VCSO said.

Paramedics respond after a Jewish man in his 60s was involved in an altercation and knocked to the ground at a pro-Palestinian rally in Westlake Village on Nov. 5, 2023.

Video from the scene showed paramedics rush to help Kessler. A witness who didn't want to be identified says it was a heated confrontation.

"They were both on an even ground, and they were yelling at each other, and then the man brought his megaphone up and hit Paul, and Paul went down," the witness said.

Witnesses say members of the pro-Palestinian group came over and begin antagonizing the other group when it suddenly turned violent.

The man witnesses identify as the suspect can be seen in video giving deputies his version of what happened.

"It never should come to this ... We have a funeral coming up of someone who simply wanted to wave an Israeli flag," Rabbi Moshe Bryski said.

Jewish groups are condemning the violent incident.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a statement:

"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. Our hearts are with the family of the victim. While we wait for more information from our law enforcement partners, we remind you that this is the fourth major antisemitic crime committed in Los Angeles this year alone. 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."

Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, says there has been a rise in antisemitic acts since war broke out between Hamas and Israel last month.

"We are devastated by reports that an elderly Jewish man has died after being struck in the head by a megaphone wielded by a pro-Palestinian protester in LA," Spitalnick said.

"People have a right to protest Israeli policies and actions -- but in far too many cases of late, we've seen protesters veer into explicit and dangerous extremism and antisemitism. Paul Kessler's death appears to be the sadly inevitable result."

"We need all decent people to unequivocally reject the hate and violence that has spiraled since October 7th, no matter their opinions on the conflict or who that hate and violence targets."

Hussam Ayloush, CAIR-LA's executive director, said in a statement that read in part:

"We are 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.

"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."

Note: This story was updated to reflect the incident took place in Thousand Oaks, not Westlake Village.