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Protest violence outside LA synagogue spurs widespread condemnation. Mayor Bass vows quick action

Nathan Solis, Richard Winton, Hannah Fry, Libor Jany, Karen Garcia and Tyrone Beason, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — A violent protest outside a Los Angeles synagogue sparked condemnation from President Biden and others Monday and prompted new debate over what some consider escalating behavior during demonstrations over the war in Gaza.

The protest began Sunday afternoon at the Adas Torah synagogue in the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood but eventually spilled into nearby areas over several hours. Fights broke out between pro-Palestinian demonstrators — who said they were protesting an event at the synagogue promoting the sale of stolen Palestinian land — and supporters of Israel.

Law enforcement sources said more than 150 people converged on the temple on West Pico Boulevard, and it took time for the Los Angeles Police Department to get enough personnel to the scene. The LAPD eventually deployed 60 officers and got the protesters and counterprotesters to clear the area, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

A pro-Israeli demonstrator who was carrying a sharp pole was arrested, according to the sources. LAPD officials said they were also investigating two reports of battery.

Bass ordered the LAPD to beef up patrols in the area and at some religious venues.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said the protest had “cast a shadow of fear,” not just in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood — “the heart of one of our Jewish communities” — but also “regionally and nationally.”

The mayor, at a Monday afternoon news conference at the Museum of Tolerance, vowed to take quick action, including seeking city and state funding for additional security measures at places of worship in the city, as well as examining the rules governing demonstrations, including “the idea of people wearing masks at protests.” A number of pro-Palestinian protesters had their faces covered Sunday.

“Yesterday was abhorrent, and blocking access to a place of worship is absolutely unacceptable,” Bass said at the news conference. “This violence was designed to stoke fear. It was designed to divide. But hear me loud and clear: It will fail.”

The demonstration was also criticized by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Intimidating Jewish congregants is dangerous, unconscionable, antisemitic, and un-American,” the president said in a statement. “Americans have a right to peaceful protest. But blocking access to a house of worship — and engaging in violence — is never acceptable.”

Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Los Angeles, said the site of the demonstration was chosen not because it was in front of a Jewish temple but because of the event it was hosting.

The protest “was in response to the blatant violations of both international law and human rights from agencies that seek to make a profit selling brutally stolen Palestinian land as the Israeli government continues its eight-month-long genocidal campaign and ethnic cleansing in Gaza,” he said in a statement.

The law enforcement sources said the event was advertised in Friday’s issue of the Jewish Journal promising to provide information on “housing projects in all the best Anglo neighborhoods in Israel.” “Anglo” is a direct translation from Hebrew meaning “English-speaking.” The ad does not specify where in Israel the real estate is.

Protest flyers posted on social media said, “Our Land Is Not For Sale,” and condemned “land theft,” according to an Instagram post from the Southern California chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

“Elected officials and the mainstream media have politicized this incident as religious discrimination as opposed to a human rights issue,” Ayloush said. “We call on political leaders to condemn the organizations involved in the potentially illegal sale of Palestinian land and the counter-protesters who commit violence against anti-genocide protesters with the same fervor used for rightfully condemning antisemitism.”

Rabbi Yossi Eilfort was at the synagogue with his security group Magen Am after Jewish community members notified them about the planned protest, Eilfort said. Sunday’s protest was only the second time Eilfort could recall a protest taking place outside a synagogue since Oct. 7, when a group gathered outside the Shaarey Zedek synagogue and Hebrew school in Valley Village.

The protesters arrived in waves that overwhelmed LAPD officers on the scene, Eilfort said. At one point, Eilfort said he saw a masked protester use some type of irritant spray on Jewish counterprotesters.

“They came with weapons in order to escalate and create violence,” he said. “They have the right to protest. We have the right to hold an event that was in our community.”

It was not clear how many people were injured.

Videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel said he was hit in the back of the head by pro-Israeli protesters while he covered the event. Several men followed him on Pico Boulevard shortly before 4:30 p.m. In his video, someone off camera can be heard telling the men that Beckner-Carmitchel is a member of the media.

“It was nothing other than egging on violence,” he said. “There were no political statements being made.”

Interim LAPD Chief Dominic Choi said authorities knew about the protest in advance and based their deployment strategy on the size of the groups they’d seen at similar gatherings.

A demonstration at a synagogue in Valley Village on Thursday brought only 25 protesters. A handful of officers was enough to handle that crowd, according to law enforcement sources.

Based on that assessment, Choi said, the department initially deployed two squads of officers to the synagogue.


But Sunday’s gathering was much bigger.

Choi declined to say how many officers were eventually called to provide backup, saying only that it was “over a mobile force.”

Eden Cohen said a handful of LAPD officers were standing at the entrance of the synagogue, apparently trying to keep protesters from going inside. Her throat and eyes burned from the bear spray that saturated the air, she said, adding that she saw Jewish people on the ground after being sprayed with the irritant as others tried to help them.

There were fistfights among protesters, some who fashioned signs into sticks and others hurling obscenities and wrestling one another to the ground in the street. Cohen said she heard anti-Jewish slurs and calls for violence against Israeli soldiers.

“Police were really not stopping the fights that were breaking out. They weren’t stopping the anti-Jewish protesters from spraying Jews in the face with bear spray. It was a chaotic, violent, terrifying scene that seemed to be completely out of control,” Cohen said.

Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, founder of the JEM Community Center in Beverly Hills, arrived at Adas Torah on Sunday to worship during afternoon prayer and was confronted by a group yelling into megaphones. Some temple visitors were blocked from going inside, he said.

“We could not pray well because these people outside were screaming,” he said.

Jessica Hyam who owns the Little Tichel Lady clothing shop a few doors down from the synagogue, heard about the protest and hired a security guard to stand outside her store. The protest started small and just in front of Adas Torah, but eventually the sidewalk in front of her store was full.

Her security guard ran inside after he was pepper sprayed.

“It’s our home, so for them to come into a densely populated Jewish area and to protest here, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of their cause. It just feels like they’re coming and telling us, ‘We’re against you,’” Hyam said.

Phillip Kim, a member of the group People’s City Council, said he was kicked and spit on by pro-Israeli protesters outside the synagogue. The claim that protesters were blocking the entrance to the synagogue with antisemitic intent is false, he said.

“It’s a horrible mischaracterization of what happened,” Kim said. “None of the protest was based on this being a Jewish place of worship. It was solely based on the real estate event, which is morally reprehensible.”

The ongoing war in Gaza, which was sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people, has spurred numerous protests across the U.S., pitting pro-Palestinian demonstrators against Israel supporters.

Although the U.S. has staunchly supported Israel’s aims of freeing hostages taken into Gaza and defeating the militant group Hamas, it has grown increasingly concerned over the rising Palestinian death toll and the humanitarian crisis created by the war.

More than 37,000 Palestinians are dead after nearly nine months of Israeli bombings and a ground invasion of Gaza, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said more than 625,000 children are “living in rubble” without access to resources, according to a news release.

Sam Yebri, who watched the situation outside the temple on Sunday, said protesters targeting places of worship appeared to him to be a new level of escalation. Yebri’s family prays, eats and shops in the Pico-Robertson community and his children attend school there, he said.

He arrived outside Adas Torah around 1 p.m. and saw protesters wearing masks and green headbands chanting “Intifada,” the Arabic word for a rebellion. He said he witnessed protesters making the Nazi salute at Jewish people wearing yarmulkes and holding Israeli flags. But The Times could not confirm that based on videos reviewed from the scene.

“There’s a reason why these protesters chose Pico-Robertson for their actions: They knew they would be striking at the heart of Jewish America,” Yebri said.

Bass said in her statement late Sunday that she would be meeting with Choi to discuss security measures and other issues related to the violence. Choi told the Los Angeles Times he would review the department’s response to the protest.


(Times staff writer Paul Pringle and editor Carlos Lozano contributed to this report.)


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