(LOS ANGELES) — A 69-year-old Jewish man died after a blunt-force head injury following an altercation at an Israel-Hamas war protest in California, Ventura County officials and local organizations said Monday.
The death followed a confrontation with a counter-protester as simultaneous pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held at the same location over the weekend, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office said it determined Paul Kessler’s death was a homicide. Authorities have not ruled out the possibility the incident was a hate crime, officials said Monday. Kessler was Jewish, according to two faith-based organizations in Los Angeles.
On Sunday afternoon in Thousand Oaks, California, multiple people called the Ventura County Sheriff’s Communication Center to report an incident of battery at the corner of Westlake Boulevard and Thousand Oaks Boulevard, authorities said. The intersection was where pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrations were taking place.
Authorities arriving on the scene located Kessler and noted he was suffering from a head injury, the sheriff’s office said.
Witnesses told deputies that Kessler was involved in a physical altercation with a counter-protester or protesters, officials said Monday night. Kessler fell backward during the altercation, authorities said, hitting his head on the ground.
He was transported to a local hospital for what authorities said was “advanced medical treatment,” but he died from his injuries Monday, officials said.
The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles said in a Monday statement that it was “devastated to learn of the tragic death of an elderly Jewish man.”
“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,” the federation said.
Executive Director Hussam Ayloush of the Greater LA office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations also issued a statement following the news of the man’s death.
“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,” he said.
The public should wait until the sheriff’s office completes its investigation before “drawing any conclusions,” he said.
“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,” he added.
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