A Jewish man who fell backwards and hit his head during an altercation amid pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian street protests in California has died. His death is being treated as a homicide.
Paul Kessler, 69, died of blunt force head trauma a day after the altercation on Sunday, the Ventura County sheriff’s office said, adding that witnesses described the incident as battery.
The sheriff’s office said no suspect was in custody as of Monday night and the incident “appears to be isolated and not part of a large effort”, but it had not been ruled out as a hate crime.
Separate pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations occurred simultaneously on Sunday in the city of Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles (65km) west of Los Angeles, the sheriff’s office said.
Kessler was involved in a physical altercation between counterprotesters, the sheriff’s office said, citing witness accounts. It did not specify which side instigated the altercation.
“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.”
Emotions have run high in the US over the war between Israel and Hamas, with US officials and civil rights groups warning of increased threats against Jews, Muslims and Arab Americans since the Hamas attack on 7 October.
Last month, an Illinois man was charged with hate crimes for stabbing a six-year-old Muslim boy to death and wounding his mother in an attack that officials said targeted them for their religion in a response to the war.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles identified the victim as Jewish and said it was the fourth act of antisemitic violence in the LA area this year and the second since the attacks in southern Israel by Hamas on 7 October.
Kessler, who was carrying an Israeli flag at the demonstration, came from a family of philanthropists who were devastated by his death, Farkas said.
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”.
“CAIR-LA and the Muslim community stand with the Jewish community in rejecting any and all violence, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or incitement of hatred,” it said.