THOUSAND OAKS, California (JTA) — Police in Ventura County, outside Los Angeles, said they had identified a suspect but had not made any arrests in connection with the death of Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jewish pro-Israel activist who died after a confrontation with a pro-Palestinian protester on Monday.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime, Sheriff James Fryhoff said during a press conference on Tuesday morning. And while the incident is being investigated as a homicide, a medical examiner explained that that term means Kessler’s death resulted from human interaction — and not necessarily that a crime had been committed.
The case is attracting significant attention because it is the first death reported in connection with international protests for and against Israel in the weeks since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, prompting Israel to declare war on the terror group.
Fryhoff declined to share many details of the ongoing investigation but sketched out the contours of what happened on Monday, when pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at a busy intersection in this southern California suburb, and pro-Israel demonstrators assembled at the same spot for a counter-protest. There were about 75 to 100 people in total between the two camps, he said, and police officers were monitoring the scene but were not stationed there.
He said multiple people had called 911 after Kessler fell following an altercation of some kind and that police had interviewed witnesses after arriving just minutes later.
“Witnesses provided conflicting statements about what the altercation, and who the aggressor, was. Some of the witnesses were pro-Palestine while others were pro-Israel,” he said. “During the investigation at the scene, deputies determined that in the altercation with Mr. Kessler, he fell backward and struck his head on the ground. What exactly transpired prior to Mr. Kessler falling backward isn’t crystal clear right now.”
Fryhoff said a 50-year-old male who lives in nearby Moorpark, and who was a pro-Palestinian demonstrator, had been identified as a suspect in the case and was detained briefly on Tuesday afternoon while investigators executed a search warrant on his home. Fryhoff said the man, whom he did not identify, had cooperated with deputies at the scene of the incident. The man also said he had been among those to call 911, Fryhoff said.
Fryhoff exhorted anyone with video from the event to share it with the sheriff’s office. A video from a nearby Shell gas station was obscured by the gas station sign, he said.
Kessler was conscious and responsive at the protest and again when officers interviewed him at a nearby hospital, Fryhoff said. His condition deteriorated and he was pronounced dead shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday, nearly 12 hours after the incident.
The chief medical examiner said physicians who assessed Kessler, as well as an autopsy that was performed on him, observed an injury to his face that could have been caused by being struck with a megaphone — something the local Jewish federation said had occurred. But it was the blow to the back of Kessler’s head that was fatal, said the examiner, Dr. Christopher Young.
The rallies took place at a busy intersection that Fryhoff said has been home to two other protests related to Israel and Gaza since Oct. 7.
“We’ve had 21 protests countywide since October 7. This was the only one so far that has had some type of violent encounter at all,” he said.
The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Rabbi Noah Farkas, was at the press conference.
“We have to allow the investigation to continue,” Farkas said. “We appreciate that it’s being investigated as a homicide. And we hope the facts of the case will come out so that we have real clarity about what had happened. But at the same, we live in an environment that we know is very hostile to the Jewish community. … The environment was such that it could lend itself to violence.”
Farkas said he urged the local Jewish community “to be vigilant and to stay calm” despite mounting reports of antisemitic incidents globally and several local incidents of violence, including an Oct. 25 home invasion in Studio City, California, in which the alleged intruder shouted “Free Palestine” and “Kill Jews.”
“The last thing that anyone should want is for Jews in the community to take matters into their own hands and commit some kind of reprisal,” he said. He also said Jews should continue to attend pro-Israel demonstrations, including ones planned for Beverly Hills on Nov. 19 and in Washington, D.C. next week. “That’s how we can express ourselves,” he said.
Fryhoff said his department assesses the risks related to each event before deciding whether to send officers.
“It’s very clear that sometimes when law enforcement does arrive on scene, that we can be a catalyst for additional aggression, and so we try and limit our presence,” he said. In this case, he said, “There was no indication of impending violence and so no additional resources were needed. … This event was not preventable.”
Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN
(JTA) — Less than a week after the United Nations secretary general urged an investigation into reported sexual violence by Hamas, the Israeli U.N. mission held a conference on the allegations and pressed the international community to speak out more forcefully against them.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of sexual assault in so many situations. That’s why the silence on these war crimes is dangerous,” said former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, the event’s keynote speaker. “The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn’t have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last few minutes of their lives?”
A CNN op-ed by Sandberg, and an accompanying Instagram post, have been at the center of a growing protest by Israeli and Jewish women who charge that the U.N. and other international bodies have dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The protest has spread via the hashtag #Me_Too_UNless_UR_a_Jew and found its real-life expression in Monday’s event, which drew 700 people to U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan took aim in particular at U.N. Women — the organization’s arm for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment — which caught flak for posting and then deleting a statement condemning the Hamas attack.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women show that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Erdan said in his opening remarks.
“U.N. Women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of testimonies of sexual crimes,” he said. “Instead of immediately supporting the victims, U.N. Women brazenly suggested that Hamas’ gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly antisemitic U.N. body.”
The condemnation of the U.N. is the latest in a long line of complaints Israel has had about the body both before and during its ongoing war with Hamas. In late October, Erdan called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Oct. 7 attack “did not happen in a vacuum.”
The United Nations General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas and has called for a cessation of the conflict, which restarted last week after a seven-day pause in which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel released hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners..
Last week, Guterres called for an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. But speakers at Monday’s event pushed for more from world leaders. Sandberg called for “the entire U.N. to formally condemn, investigate, hold the terrorists accountable.” Erdan, to loud applause, called for an “investigation of U.N. Women’s indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women”
In the nearly two months since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli law enforcement, search and rescue groups, and the country’s recently formed Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children have collected evidence and testimony regarding Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported testimony from survivors of the Nova music festival recalling women being gang raped and beheaded.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the event along with other women’s rights groups, drew a parallel between last week’s Torah portion, which includes the Biblical story of the rape of Dinah, and the experiences of the victims of Oct. 7. Katz noted that Dinah’s voice is notably missing from the Biblical narrative.
“For generations, survivors of sexual assaults have looked to Dina’s story because it speaks so powerfully to the secondary trauma of being unheard, ignored and reduced to mere objects for debate,” said Katz, who invited people to step out of the room if they felt the need, given the graphic nature of the event. “And we heard this with new significance this year, because Israeli women and girls were recently tortured, raped, and killed, forever silenced by Hamas.”
Several actors attended the event, including Tovah Feldshuh, Julianna Margulies, Emmy Rossum and Debra Messing, all of whom have spoken out against antisemitism or Hamas’ attack. (Margulies was also fresh off an apology after making disparaging comments about Black Americans who have not supported Jews after Oct. 7.)
The event also featured people who tended to victims of the event, including representatives from ZAKA, the Orthodox Israeli first-responder organization, and the Israeli police, who have been collecting and documenting evidence from victims of sexual violence and people who witnessed the violence. They recounted graphic stories, to which the crowd responded vocally with murmurs, gasps and tears. Some in the audience exchanged tissues, hugs and pats on the back for extra support.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, also came and discussed seeing a compilation of footage of the attack that a group of senators recently viewed.
“I’ve seen much of the raw footage. It takes your breath away,” she said. “You can’t unsee it.”
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the event, Sandberg said silence surrounding sexual violence is connected to a dearth of female representation on the world stage.
“You look in that hall at those flags — those are countries run by men, very few are run by women. I really wanted that to change in my lifetime. It’s not going to happen, not going to be close,” she said. “But that means the progress we fought for to get women’s women’s rights and protection of our bodies, protection of who we are, protection against systematic, sexualized violence — can’t be lost. And that is why anyone can speak out. And when they speak out, we have to all unite together as quickly as possible.”
The post Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism
A detailed report from a spirited snowy scene on Monday afternoon.
The post Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.
Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa
MONTREAL (JTA) — Despite a foot of snow in Montreal and chartered buses that never showed up in Toronto, thousands of Canadian Jews assembled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday to voice solidarity with Israel and decry a rise in antisemitism.
Despite concerns over overall security in Canada’s capital city, which was tight, the rally’s speakers included several prominent Canadian politicians, Jewish leaders, college students who feel unsafe on campus and family members of Israelis taken hostage or killed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Local Jewish leaders called the event, organized by Jewish federations across Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a historic gathering. But just weeks after a similar incident in Detroit before a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, 17 of 70 chartered buses did not show up to pick up rally-goers in Toronto.
Organizers called the no-show bus company antisemitic.
“Despite charging in full in advance and confirming its participation, the [unidentified] company did not send a single bus and has declined all communications while refusing to provide any explanations,” said Adam Minsky, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal Federations in Toronto.
“We are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he added. “What happened today is sickening and outrageous. We will respond aggressively with every legal and public affairs tool at our disposal.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed, Liberal Party member of parliament Anthony Housefather and deputy Conservative Party leader Melissa Lantsman all spoke on Monday.
“This is not 1943. I’m grateful that Israel exists and has an army to fight back against those who launched this pogrom,” said Housefather, who is Jewish and represents Montreal’s heavily Jewish Mount Royal district.
Raquel Look, whose son Alexandre was murdered at the music festival in southern Israel attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, called on Canadian politicians to take more action against antisemitism. Hate crimes against Jews — including multiple incidents that have involved Molotov cocktails thrown at Montreal-area synagogues — have spiked across Canada.
“Our sorrow is deep and immeasurable but today we want to channel this immense pain into a call for action,” Look said. “Please let us honour his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy Jewish and Canadians values we hold so dear.”
The post Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.