Eyewitness Recounts Death of Jewish Protester in California

Eyewitness Recounts Death of Jewish Protester in California

(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Shutterstock, Getty Images, Freepik)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

11/9/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Friends and family came together this week to grieve the death of Paul Kessler, a Jewish man who died on Nov. 6, the day after an altercation at dueling pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests in Thousand Oaks, California.
Mr. Kessler was hit in the face with a megaphone at the Nov. 5 rally, causing him to suffer a fatal fall. Thousand Oaks resident Jonathan Oswaks, who was with Mr. Kessler at the protest supporting Israel, witnessed what happened.
Mr. Oswaks said he had only met Mr. Kessler, 69, also of Thousand Oaks, the weekend before at the same intersection where the pro-Palestinian group had rallied multiple times since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists.
Jonathan Oswaks speaks to the press about his friend Paul Kessler, a Jewish man who died following an altercation during dueling pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrations on the previous day, on Nov. 7, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)

Jonathan Oswaks speaks to the press about his friend Paul Kessler, a Jewish man who died following an altercation during dueling pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrations on the previous day, on Nov. 7, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)

Although they had just met, they shared some deep conversations, Mr. Oswaks said.
“He was passionate,” Mr. Oswaks told The Epoch Times. “He was committed. He was a man who was not very large in stature, but he had the heart of a lion. He was not afraid to stand his ground.”
The two men felt compelled to stand up for Israel in their community—a quiet suburb that’s about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles—after pro-Palestinian supporters staged protests at the busy intersection.
Mr. Kessler was the only person who responded to a social media post by Mr. Oswaks that called out to the Jewish community to counter-protest at the pro-Palestinian rally.
They met on Oct. 29 for the first time near the protesters and were threatened with a gun, according to Mr. Oswaks.
As they walked through the crowd, a man began following them and flashed a gun from beneath his shirt, according to Mr. Oswaks. The man wore a black hoodie, a green vest, and a black-and-white checkered scarf covering most of his face.
“He pulled up his shirt, and he showed me his gun,” Mr. Oswaks said. “At that point, the police were called.”
Mr. Oswaks and Mr. Kessler left after police were unable to find the perpetrator, but the two decided to come back the next weekend.
Thousands of demonstrators waving Palestinian flags and signs march in support of Palestinians in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)

Thousands of demonstrators waving Palestinian flags and signs march in support of Palestinians in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)

Nov. 5 Rally

They arrived at the Nov. 5 rally at the intersection of Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards at about 2:45 p.m. with Israeli and American flags.
“Paul and I met there and got the flags we were going to use,” Mr. Oswaks said. “We were standing in the same spot where he was struck.”
Behind them, the pro-Palestinian group was setting up speakers and yelling phrases, including “Death to Israel,” “Allahu Akbar,” and “From the river to the sea,” into the microphone, according to Mr. Oswaks.
The two decided to split up and stand on different corners but promised to keep an eye on each other for safety reasons.
Law enforcement on the scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury amid pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

Law enforcement on the scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury amid pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

As Mr. Oswaks set up on an opposite corner, two men, including the man suspected of pushing Mr. Kessler, came up behind him and started yelling in his ear using the megaphone.
After that, the suspect and the other man walked across the street to where Mr. Kessler was standing, according to Mr. Oswaks.
Shortly after that, the man allegedly struck Mr. Kessler in the face with a megaphone and struck him with his hand on the left side of his face, according to Mr. Oswaks. Mr. Kessler fell to the ground, striking the back of his head on the concrete.
“The man holding the megaphone was the man that struck him,” Mr. Oswaks said, referring to a photo that his friend took of the suspect and another pro-Palestinian protester crossing the street. “That is the murder weapon right there.”
Mr. Oswaks drove to the hospital to see his friend but was told that he was being treated and that law enforcement was with him. He left his information and went home, only to learn the next day that Mr. Kessler had died.
The fall caused a traumatic brain injury, and Mr. Kessler died early the next morning at Los Robles Regional Medical Center, according to Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner Christopher Young.
“I was completely shocked,” Mr. Oswaks said. “It hasn’t really hit me. Really, what I’m dealing with is a tremendous amount of guilt.”
 Left: Paramedics are on scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. Right: Paramedics assist Paul Kessler, 69, after he sustained a head injury during an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer) Left: Paramedics are on scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. Right: Paramedics assist Paul Kessler, 69, after he sustained a head injury during an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

Left: Paramedics are on scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. Right: Paramedics assist Paul Kessler, 69, after he sustained a head injury during an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

However, Sheriff James Fryhoff said at a press conference on Nov. 7 that a 50-year-old suspect from Moorpark was cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation and stayed at the scene to answer questions. He was also said to be one of the people who called 911 to get medical help for Mr. Kessler.
On Nov. 8, the sheriff’s office issued a statement revealing that many eyewitness statements from the scene conflicted with each other, making it a challenge to investigate the case.
“Conflicting statements from multiple witnesses can make it difficult to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt,“ the statement reads. ”Witnesses with conflicting statements impair witness credibility, create reasonable doubt, cause unreliable testimony, and strain a prosecutor’s ability to prove a case.”
Loay Alnaji (L) the alleged suspect in the death of 69-year-old Paul Kessler, a Jewish man, carries a megaphone in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy Of Jonathan Oswaks)

Loay Alnaji (L) the alleged suspect in the death of 69-year-old Paul Kessler, a Jewish man, carries a megaphone in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy Of Jonathan Oswaks)

A suspect in the case, Loay Alnaji, was arrested on Nov. 16 and charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter and one count of felony battery causing serious bodily injury. Also included in the charges is an allegation of personally inflicted great bodily injury, which is an enhancement to the charges and would add to his penalty or prison time if convicted.
Mr. Alnaji, 50, is a computer science teacher at Moorpark College in California. His bail will be set at $1 million, according to the sheriff’s office.
Family, friends, and loved ones came together on the night of Nov. 8 at the Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks under heavy security to grieve and remember Mr. Kessler’s life. People from many different faiths gathered to mourn.
Elena Colombo makes a Star of David out of chalk among flowers and candles left at a makeshift memorial placed at the scene of a Nov. 5 confrontation that led to the death of a demonstrator in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Elena Colombo makes a Star of David out of chalk among flowers and candles left at a makeshift memorial placed at the scene of a Nov. 5 confrontation that led to the death of a demonstrator in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks

The number of anti-Semitic incidents has dramatically increased in the United States since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which documents a nearly 400 percent jump in reports from the same time period last year.
“The amount of anti-Semitism that has been happening has truly been mind-blowing,” Thousand Oaks Police Chief Jeremy Paris told those gathered at the vigil.
Several fights broke out outside the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance on the night of Nov. 8 following a screening of “Bearing Witness to the October 7th Massacre,” assembled by the Israel Defense Forces, which showed violent footage—primarily captured from body-worn cameras of Hamas militants—of the murders, beheadings, and rapes of Jewish people during the attack.
Video footage captured by local media and people in the area shows two groups clashing at the corner of West Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive near the museum. Some of those involved appeared to be pepper sprayed. Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department responded and formed a skirmish line while asking people to disperse.
"Gaza" is sprayed on a broken McDonald's window during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Freedom Plaza in Washington on Nov. 4, 2023. (Ali Khaligh/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

"Gaza" is sprayed on a broken McDonald's window during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Freedom Plaza in Washington on Nov. 4, 2023. (Ali Khaligh/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

No arrests were made, but two battery reports were taken, according to Los Angeles Police Department officer and spokesperson Annie Moran. Details about the reports weren’t available.
“The victims refused medical treatment,” Ms. Moran told The Epoch Times.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass took to social media to urge the community to unite.
“We cannot allow current worldwide tension to devolve into this unacceptable violence in our city,” Ms. Bass said on X, formerly Twitter. “This is a time of immense pain and distress for thousands of Angelenos. We must stand together.”
The Anti-Defamation League stated that it was “horrified” by the violence and called it a case of “blatant anti-Semitism.”
“Last night’s violence at the Museum of Tolerance is incomprehensible but not surprising,” the organization stated in a Nov. 9 post on X. “The level of hatred directed at the Jewish community here and worldwide is unprecedented, horrific, and becoming deadly.”
The league called on leaders across Los Angeles to speak out against the “hateful targeting.”
Copy
facebooktwitterlinkedintelegram
Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

Author

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.