A pro-Palestine rally was held in Westlake Village, a town near Thousand Oaks, California on SundayPaul Kessler, 69, fell to the ground and later died, according to reports: video on social media showed a man lying on the ground, tended to by two peopleHis local rabbi said: ‘We DO NOT KNOW at this time if he fell, was pushed, or was attacked’ By Harriet Alexander For Dailymail.com
Published: 01:35, 7 November 2023 | Updated: 06:30, 7 November 2023
A 69-year-old Jewish man was killed in California after an altercation at protests over the Israel-Hamas war, with his death ruled a homicide and authorities not ruling out a hate crime.
The incident has left the victim’s wife reeling and in ‘a state of total shock.’
Paul Kessler was at the scene of two rival rallies held along Westlake Boulevard and Thousand Oaks Boulevard on Sunday: one was in support of Israel, and the other backing the Palestinian cause.
There, Kessler got into an fight with another person – with some witnesses saying Kessler was hit with a megaphone – and fell, hitting his head. He was taken the hospital where he died the next day.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the incident, but has not named a suspect.
Video shared on social media showed Kessler on the ground and in pain after falling as people tried to provide care, including one person who was wearing a Palestinian flag.
Paul Kessler, 69, is seen on Sunday after an incident at dueling pro Israel-pro Palestine rallies in Westlake Village. A Palestinian supporter appears to be helping Kessler after he fell. Kessler died the next day in hospital
Police continue to investigate and have not released any information about any suspects. Authorities have also not ruled out that Kessler was the victim of a hate crime
Local rabbi Moshe Bryski told the New York post that Kessler’s death was ‘just a tragedy.’
Bryski said when he contacted Kessler’s wife on Monday morning, she was ‘in a state of total shock.’
An autopsy determined Kessler died from a blunt force head injury and the manner of death was ruled a homicide.
‘The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death homicide,’ the sheriff’s department said in a statement.
Police said the incident appeared to be isolated and not part of a larger effort. They are appealing for anyone with photos or video of the moment to come forward.
‘Witness accounts indicated that Kessler was involved in a physical altercation with counter-protester(s),’ said Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
‘During the altercation, Kessler fell backwards and struck his head on the ground.’
Rabbi Michael Barclay, the rabbi in Westlake, urged calm and said he was trying to find more information.
He said police had identified a suspected who was involved in an altercation with Kessler before he fell, but there were conflicting witness reports as to whether Kessler was pushed or tripped.
‘Please do NOT post misinformation about the horrible death of an elderly Jew yesterday here in Westlake, where I am the local Rabbi,’ he wrote on X.
‘I have had long conversations with the Chief of Police and they sure investigating the different accounts of what happened and reviewing video.’
Sunday’s incident occurred at the corner of Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Westlake Road (pictured)
He added: ‘It is not clear yet exactly what happened other than an elderly Jew was counter protesting at a Gazan demonstration, hit the ground, and died.
‘We DO NOT KNOW at this time if he fell, was pushed, or was attacked.
‘Please do not spread rumors. We will know soon what happened.’
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles claimed the victim was ‘struck in the head by a megaphone wielded by a pro-Palestinian protestor.’ They were unable to provide further details.
The Federation said in a statement: ‘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.’
Ventura County Supervisor Jeff Gorell, whose district covers the location where the incident took place, said he’d been briefed by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
‘I’m heartbroken to hear of the tragic death of an elderly man today after having been struck at a protest in my district,’ he tweeted.