Jewish man dead after attack during Israel-Palestine protests in Ventura County

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Southern California authorities said an elderly Jewish man who was attacked at Palestine and Israel demonstrations in Thousand Oaks over the weekend died from his injuries.

The horrific incident happened around 3 p.m. Sunday during dueling rallies near the intersection of Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards. Deputies with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office were called out to the area after reports of a battery.

When they got there, they found 69-year-old Paul Kessler had fallen to the ground and was bleeding from his head. According to deputies, Kessler had been involved in “an altercation with counter-protesters.” 

Reports on social media said Kessler was holding an Israeli flag among the group of pro-Palestine demonstrators when one demonstrator allegedly hit Kessler on the head with a megaphone. The alleged hit caused Kessler to fall down and hit his head, with video posted to social media just showing Kessler on the ground holding his head after the fall.

Kessler was taken to the hospital Sunday, and on Monday, officials said he did not survive his injuries sustained in the attack. According to the VCSO, Kessler’s autopsy determined his cause of death to be a blunt-force head injury, and the manner of death was ruled a homicide.

The VCSO’s Major Crimes Bureau continues to investigate the incident and the VCSO said the office has not ruled out the possibility that the incident was a hate crime.

The person wanted in the attack has not been arrested or charged.

In a statement to FOX 11 the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said it’s “devastated” by the news, saying their “hearts are with the family of the victim.”

“Violence against our people has no place in civilized society,” the statement read. “We demand safety. We will not tolerate violence against our community. We will do everything in our power to prevent it.”

LA Mayor Karen Bass issued the following statement Tuesday:

Click here to read the full artricle in FoxNews 11

Antisemitic graffiti found at Canter’s Deli

The messages are being investigated as a possible hate crime

Antisemitic messages found painted outside Canter’s Deli in the Fairfax District early Wednesday are being investigated as a possible hate crime, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Police responded to the 400 block of North Fairfax Avenue, where earlier in the day images posted on X, formerly Twitter, showed the wall of the Jewish restaurant’s parking lot painted with the words “Free Gaza” and “Israels only religion is capitalism” in white graffiti.

“How many dead in the name of greed?” read another message under a black-and-white picture of the Canter’s Deli storefront.

The words were scrawled under the Fairfax Community Mural, by artist Art Mortimer. Unveiled in 1985, the mural showcases the history of Los Angeles Jews through enlarged photographs from the earliest days of the Jewish community in the city.

Shortly after noon, customers continued to stream in and out of the delicatessen during the lunchtime rush. Very few employees at Canter’s wanted to speak on the record about the vandalism, referring media inquiries to Marc Canter, co-owner of the deli, who wasn’t present Wednesday afternoon. Canter is the son of the late Alan Canter, the previous owner of Canter’s Deli.

Tristan, a cashier at the deli who declined to provide his last name, said he arrived at work around 11:15 a.m. and saw two cop cars and two police officers outside. He said he asked another Canter’s employee, who confirmed to him that the parking lot had been vandalized.

He declined to comment further on the nature of the graffiti and said he hadn’t seen it himself.

“This is L.A.,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”

Outside, customers leaving the deli hadn’t seen or heard about the graffiti, which appeared to have been painted over with fresh black paint by 11 a.m.

An LAPD spokesperson said police were called to the restaurant in the Fairfax District at 10:37 a.m.

LAPD Officer Rosario Cervantes said officers were called about a vandalism incident and they took a report for a possible hate crime. She said police also responded to the 300 block of La Brea Avenue, where officers also took a report of vandalism and a possible hate crime.

The location of the second incident is near the synagogue Congregation Bais Yehuda, where Rabbi Yosef Mishulovin told The Times that he had gone Wednesday morning to pray when he saw graffiti there that also read “Free Gaza.”

Mishulovin said he found similar graffiti later that morning in front of his store, Chabad-Atara’s Judaica, where the message “Free Gaza” was spray-painted on the walkway.

Posters of Palestinian men were put up outside the store as well, with their names, ages and the words “Murdered by Israel” at the top.

Mishulovin said he called police and that they took a report at the scene. Though shaken, Mishulovin said he was trying not to focus on the incident.

“It’s very annoying and it’s very frustrating, but life has to go on,” he said. “Our eyes are looking forward, to make better people.”

On Wednesday morning, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement condemning the vandalism in the Fairfax District.

“We will pursue those responsible for this unacceptable rash of hate and hold them fully accountable,” Bass said. “We will continue to collaborate with the Los Angeles Police Department to not only respond to these anti-Semitic acts but also to prevent these acts of hate from occurring in the first place.”

The vandalism comes amid tensions over the conflict in Gaza and the deaths of 1,400 Israelis and thousands of Palestinians.

Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League said that harassment, vandalism and assaults had surged in Southern California and the rest of the state in 2022. But the Jewish civil rights organization has warned that since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, in which more than 1,400 people were killed in Israel and more than 200 taken hostage, incidents of hate against Jews have spiked.

Some in the Palestinian community have also expressed fears that the conflict could bring more hate targeting them, including those who speak out publicly about Israeli government actions.

More than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed so far, including thousands of women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have been displaced and 21,000 injured, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The posters outside Mishulovin’s store seemed reminiscent of posters that street artist Nitzan Mintz and her partner, Dede Bandaid, created in a campaign to draw attention to the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack. The posters with the word “Kidnapped” and pictures of Israeli hostages were first posted in New York, and have been reprinted and appeared across the world.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Nazi salute, antisemitic lessons and conspiracy theories embraced by the likes of Kanye West taught at a Hayward high school

A 10th grade teacher has been placed on leave after teaching antisemitism — two months after it was initially reported to the school.

A Hayward high school teacher accused of spreading antisemitic conspiracies and making the Heil Hitler salute during classes has been placed on administrative leave this week after students complained to the district about the lessons late last year.

Though students alerted both school and district staff about English teacher Henry Bens’ curriculum in December, the teacher continued to instruct his 10th graders until this week, according to teachers and students at Mt. Eden High School. The school is now on break, but according to the Hayward Unified School District, Bens will not be returning to the classroom on Monday.

The controversy comes amid an alarming rise in antisemitism fueled recently, in part, by celebrities such as Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving. Last year, Irving promoted an extremist documentary film that the Hayward teacher later featured on social media.

“He told us: You’re willfully blind,” said one of his students, 16-year-old Myldret Vazquez. “He said he was going to help us uncover the other side of the story.”

As first reported by the Jewish News of Northern California, Bens taught Elie Weisel’s Holocaust memoir, Night, alongside photocopies of The Hidden Tyranny, an antisemitic text by Holocaust-denier Benjamin Freedman. According to Vazquez, Bens told students to alternate reading portions of the material out loud and guided them to highlight specific sections.

At first, Vazquez was confused: She was being told that a secret organization of Jewish people was controlling the mass media, blackmailing American presidents and instigating war. Vazquez left class determined not to read on — but, worried that there would be a test on the topic, she finished the assignment when she got home.

“I continued to read through it, and I began to understand it a little bit more,” Vazquez said. “And then I was like, ‘Is that possible?’ ”

Ultimately, Vazquez decided it was not. She let Carmelita — her dachshund puppy — rip up her copy of The Hidden Tyranny. But Ruchita Verma, a senior at Mt. Eden who tutors 10th graders at the school, said she’s heard multiple stories of students believing Bens’ instruction.

“Students were saying, ‘Well you know, the Holocaust wasn’t even real,’ ” said Verma, referring to a story she’d been told by another classmate. “(They said) ‘What my teacher (Bens) is telling us is what we should all look into.’ ”

Bens did not respond to repeated requests for comment via phone call or email. The school district is now conducting an investigation into his instruction. Lauren McDermott, who leads communications for the Hayward Unified School District, said she did not know if or when Bens will return to Mt. Eden.

“We take these allegations very seriously, and the teacher alleged to have made such statements and used inappropriate materials is currently on a leave of absence,” said the district.

But according to Heather Eastwood, another English teacher at Mt. Eden, the administration repeatedly said they couldn’t do anything about Bens’ curriculum because of “academic freedom” — the idea that teachers have a right to express ideas without interference or professional disadvantage.

“They’ve also been saying they can’t do anything to discipline him because the union will protect him,” Eastwood said. “I said to an administrator: That’s the same thing as saying you’re not going to prosecute someone for a crime because they are going to have a defense attorney. That’s not how it works.”

Some students also feel something should have been done sooner. Two 10th graders who had complained about Bens were moved to another classroom, but those who remained also began to speak up. They recorded his lectures, took photos of their assignments and spoke out at school board meetings, urging the district to take action on not just The Hidden Tyranny assignment but other things the teacher said in class. And they created a Google Form to poll their classmates about their experiences in Bens’ lessons.

“Multiple students have come forward to share that they are in a learning space in which their teacher performs the Hitler salute,” Verma told the school board last week. “We are asking for you to help make our school a better place by ensuring our students are in safe classrooms.”

Vazquez said Bens made that salute multiple times in the classroom and — referring to alleged Israeli war crimes during a lecture on Palestine — asked students to consider what they would do if Bens broke into a house, killed all the men and raped all the women.

“If I was alive during Hitler’s time, I would have an interview with him,” said Bens in an audio file that was recorded by his students. “I would let him share his views.”

She also said the teacher told his students he was worried that everyone on Earth would become gay and that, ultimately, the population of the world would die out. Multiple LGBTQ+ students were in the classroom for that conversation, Vazquez said.

Bens’ social media profiles highlight materials — including Hebrews to Negroes, a film largely accepted as antisemitic — that are connected to the Black Hebrew Israelite religious sect. Black Hebrew Israelites do not align themselves with Judaism but claim that African Americans are the descendants of an ancient tribe in Israel. And though not all Black Hebrew Israelites are antisemitic, extremists within the movement “believe white Jews are perpetuating identity theft,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Bens, who is Black, is a pastor at Congregation Rehoboth in Alameda, a synagogue that celebrates shabbat and uses Hebrew characters in its religious readings, as documented by its Facebook live streams. In the “About” section, the synagogue states they are followers of Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus.

The Black Hebrew Israelite movement has grown in America since West and Irving latched onto some of its more extreme ideologies. After Irving shared the film Hebrews to Negroes on social media last year, he was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets for eight basketball games. He returned to the court in November, and outside the stadium, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites marched in celebration.

“We are the real Jews, and that’s some good news,” the crowd chanted.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, West’s influence has led to at least 30 antisemitic incidents since October of 2022, building on a spike nationwide. During 2021, antisemitic assaults, harassment and vandalism hit an all-time high in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The organization recorded a total of 2,717 incidents throughout that year — a 34% increase from 2020.

“We hear on a weekly basis about really disturbing antisemitic incidents that take place here, even in the Bay Area,” said Teresa Drenick, the ADL’s deputy regional director. “But to see a teacher in one of our public schools assigning and teaching from a text of this nature, that shocked all of us.”

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News