Pro-Palestinian protest outside LA synagogue criticized as ‘antisemitic’ after street fights with pro-Israel protesters

A pro-Palestinian protest held outside a Los Angeles synagogue devolved into chaotic street violence with pro-Israel counterprotesters on Sunday in an incident that several officials, including President Joe Biden, criticized as antisemitic.

The Los Angeles Police Department said it responded to two protests Sunday in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Pico-Robertson, just south of Beverly Hills. Videos taken at the scene show police pushing pro-Palestinian protesters away from the entrance of the Adas Torah temple, an Orthodox synagogue.

Chants of “Free, free Palestine - from the river to the sea,” and “long live intifada,” could be heard from among the pro-Palestinian protesters. Participants blocked traffic, and video from the scene shows multiple altercations broke out in the middle of the street and on sidewalks.

Officers arrested a person with a “spiked flag,” the police department told CNN. The person was issued a citation for possessing a prohibited item during a protest and released from custody.

Pro-Israel supporters and pro-Palestinian protesters clashed outside of the Adas Torah Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 23. - David Swanson/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-Israel supporters and pro-Palestinian protesters clashed outside of the Adas Torah Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 23. - David Swanson/AFP/Getty Images

At a Monday news conference, Los Angeles Police Department Interim Chief Dominic Choi said detectives are investigating “all acts of violence.”

He added that while residents are “OK” to protest peacefully, “violence will not be tolerated.”

At the news conference, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said she plans on meeting with the city attorney’s office to talk about the potential for permits for protests, people wearing masks at protests and “establishing clear lines of demarcation between what is legal and what is not.”

Bass said she will also convene a meeting of leaders of houses of worship and cultural centers to discuss how to protect sacred spaces and keep congregants safe. Police will enhance their partnership with Jewish public safety organizations to review threats to the community, the mayor said.

Protests around the Israel-Gaza war have become common across the United States since October, but Democratic officials sharply criticized Sunday’s event for its violence and for taking place at a Jewish institution.

“I’m appalled by the scenes outside of Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles. Intimidating Jewish congregants is dangerous, unconscionable, antisemitic, and un-American,” Biden said on X. “Americans have a right to peaceful protest. But blocking access to a house of worship – and engaging in violence – is never acceptable.”

“The violent clashes outside the Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles are appalling,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on X. “There is no excuse for targeting a house of worship. Such antisemitic hatred has no place in California.”

“Targeting a synagogue, or targeting the members of a synagogue, is anti-Semitic,” US Rep. Ted Lieu of California said on X. “I strongly condemn the Pro-Palestinian demonstrators who engaged in anti-Semitism by targeting Adas Torah Synagogue and/or its congregants. Anyone who engaged in violence should be prosecuted.”

Jewish and Muslim advocacy groups say the war has led to skyrocketing hate crimes and bias incidents. The Anti-Defamation League reports that antisemitic incidents were up 140% in 2023 compared to the prior year. And the Council on American-Islamic Relations said last year marked the highest number of anti-Muslim bias reports it has received in nearly three decades.

On Sunday, Bass said in a statement, “I want to be clear that Los Angeles will not be a harbor for antisemitism and violence. Those responsible for either will be found and held accountable.”

Synagogue hosted Israel real estate event

The protest stemmed from an Israel real estate event on Sunday at the Adas Torah synagogue, according to the synagogue’s security director and social media posts from organizers.

The event at the synagogue was promoted by a firm called My Home in Israel Real Estate, a group that has helped to facilitate marketing events for potential property sales in Israel and the West Bank to Jewish Americans. CNN has reached out to the group for comment.

In response, pro-Palestinian groups announced plans to protest the event in a Friday Instagram post from the Palestinian Youth Movement and an LA-based chapter of the group.

“Our land is not for sale,” the post stated. “Stand against settler expansion at Sunday’s real estate event selling homes to build ‘Anglo neighborhoods’ in Palestine.” The post then listed the synagogue’s Los Angeles address.

“Racist settler expansionists are not welcome in Los Angeles!” the account wrote in the caption. “This blatant example of land theft is operating in our own backyard. The Nakba is ongoing and must be confronted!”

Los Angeles Police Department officers line up in front of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the Adas Torah Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles on Sunday. - David Swanson/AFP/Getty Images
Los Angeles Police Department officers line up in front of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the Adas Torah Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles on Sunday. - David Swanson/AFP/Getty Images

Dan Braum, the volunteer security director for the temple, said the protesters blocked the entrance to the synagogue until police arrived and pushed them away.

It’s unclear how the chaos escalated, but videos shared on social media shows both groups taunting, shoving and grabbing each other outside the synagogue. The groups of demonstrators eventually began flowing down nearby streets, where more scuffles broke out, the videos show.

In one video, two men appear to be wrestling on the ground as others kick at them. Later, one of the men – holding an Israeli flag – appears to have a bloodied face and mouth.

Additional video showed an egg thrown at a pro-Palestinian activist and a man wearing a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, chased and punched on the ground by a man wearing a Jewish yarmulke or kippah.

During many of the altercations, bystanders worked to pull and hold people apart.

Los Angeles police began monitoring the situation around 10:30 a.m., Officer Tony Im told CNN. The crowd was ordered to disperse at some point, Im said, though no exact time was provided. He added that the situation appeared “pretty calm” hours later, but that police were closely monitoring the area.

‘They came looking to escalate’

Braum said the pro-Palestinian protesters had their faces covered, said “vile, disgusting things” and were “ready for a fight.”

“They come looking to escalate,” he said. “Not every single one of them, that would be unfair of me to say. But there are certain ones who come looking for violence and they get violence and they want the cameras recording.”

One man wearing a red keffiyeh over his face spoke to CNN affiliate KCAL as a counter-protester badgered him to “show your face.”

“It’s not meant to be intimidating. Yeah, disruptive, for sure,” the keffiyeh-wearing man said.

“This is intimidating,” he added, pointing at the counter-protester. “We didn’t get in anyone’s faces.”

However, resident Josh Golcheh disagreed. “They’ve come to our home. They come and are attacking us. They bear-sprayed my friend who’s standing right over here,” he told KCAL. He said people he knew had been attacked. “It’s just terrible.”

Rabbi Hertzel Illulian of the nearby JEM Community Center in Beverly Hills told KCAL violence “doesn’t belong here” and lamented what he saw as a double standard.

“I don’t think the Jewish people would go in front of a mosque or the Christian people would go in front of a mosque to do such a thing,” he said. “Nobody would accept this, but here, when it comes to Jews and Israel, everything is kosher, everything is okay.”

In a statement, the Jewish Federation Los Angeles nonprofit thanked Biden and other officials for their support.

“Yesterday’s abhorrent violence in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles, the most densely populated Jewish area on the West Coast, is yet another example of the rising antisemitism and violence targeting Jews. Harassment, intimidation, and physical attacks against our Jewish community cannot be tolerated or normalized,” the organization said.

“Jews, like everyone else, have the right to live, pray, and gather in peace. We respect the constitutional freedom to protest. However, what we saw yesterday and are witnessing time and again across the nation, are protests that devolve into excuses to target and harm Jews.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Amanda Jackson, Sarah Moon, Camila Bernal, Andy Rose, DJ Judd, and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.

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