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L.A. sushi restaurant attack is being investigated as an antisemitic hate crime

VIDEO | 02:03
Attack at Westside sushi restaurant investigated as possible antisemitic hate crime

Authorities are investigating whether a violent brawl outside a Westside restaurant Tuesday night was an antisemitic hate crime.

An attack on diners outside a sushi restaurant by people shouting slogans against Israel is being investigated by Los Angeles police as an antisemitic hate crime.

The attack came as a deadly battle continued in the Gaza Strip, escalating tensions in the U.S. among supporters of Israel and those who back the Palestinians.

A video capturing part of the Tuesday night attack shows people in a caravan of cars flying Palestinian flags yelling, “F— you” and “You guys should be ashamed of yourselves” as they drive by the restaurant.

At one point before the attack, which later escalated to kicking and punching, a person can be heard yelling, “Israel kills children!”

The violence in Gaza and surrounding areas has killed at least 227 Palestinians, including 64 children, and 12 people in Israel, including a small child, a teenager and a soldier.

In addition to Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets fired from Gaza, the conflict has sometimes erupted into street attacks, leaving scores injured.

“We don’t know what the motivation is of the people who perpetrated this hate crime, but we’re certainly aware [that] what happens in Israel — what happens in the Middle East — does impact us here on the ground,” said Jeffrey Abrams, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles.

Past fighting between Israel and Hamas offers a window into current conflict — and how it could end

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A witness told The Times that people from the car caravan began throwing bottles and other items at diners.

“They were chanting, ‘Death to Jews’ and ‘Free Palestine,’” said the witness, who asked to remain anonymous because he feared for his safety. “They had malice.”

In the video, about eight people, most dressed in black, converge on the diners. The fight grows increasingly violent as it spills farther onto the sidewalk. One man swings a metal stanchion at the attackers, who then push him against a car, punch and kick him, the video shows.

“Guys, guys, it’s not worth it,” another man can be heard saying over a megaphone in the video as the attackers disperse down the street.

No arrests have been made in the attack, which began about 10 p.m., said Los Angeles Police Officer Jeff Lee.

Three possible suspects were last seen heading northbound in a Jeep on La Brea Avenue, Lee said.

At least one person suffered unknown injuries, Lee said, but no one was taken to a hospital.

Deputy Chief Vito Palazzolo, who oversees the LAPD’s West Bureau, said Wednesday that investigators are examining security footage and witness videos, as well as tracing license plates, to try to identify the attackers.

“This behavior is completely unacceptable in our city,” Palazzolo said. “We are a city of many different backgrounds. We take every hate crime very seriously. This is not going unattended.”

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, condemned the attack and expressed concern that the violence in the Middle East was being brought “onto American streets.”

“Whoever those people were last night did not represent our community,” Al-Marayati said. “They did not represent any of our organizations, and they definitely do not represent the Palestinian cause that we feel is just.”

Al-Marayati said he has been in touch with the Los Angeles Police Department, the mayor’s office and the city attorney about the attack. He said he hopes that everyone can work together to stand against the “despicable acts.”

City Council Member Paul Koretz said Wednesday that he will “do everything necessary to bring these criminals to justice and to restore order on our city streets.”

“We are not going to allow the violence in the Middle East to spill out onto the streets of Los Angeles,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to express their opinion but never through violence.”

On Twitter, Mayor Eric Garcetti said: “We as a city condemn last night’s organized, anti-Semitic attack. Jewish Angelenos, like all residents, should always feel safe in our city.”

Palazzolo said the LAPD is also investigating an incident captured on a parking garage security camera near Rosewood and La Brea avenues in the Fairfax area Monday night. In the video, a man in Orthodox Jewish dress flees from several cars, flying Palestinian flags, that appear to be pursuing him.

The two attacks do not appear to be related, multiple law enforcement sources said.

“As Palestinian protesters attack Jews seated for dinner at a Los Angeles restaurant, and another Jewish individual on foot chased by two cars driven by Palestinian protesters, the scenes of violence that unfolded are undeniable evidence of the dangerous spike in antisemitism in the United States and abroad,” the Israeli-American Civic Action Network said in a statement.

On Israel-Palestinian violence, President Biden urges leader Benjamin Netanyahu to move toward ‘path to a ceasefire’ with Hamas in Gaza by day’s end.

There has been a 40% increase in antisemitic incidents in California over the last five years, said Abrams, of the ADL.

Jewish people were the “top target” of hate crimes in L.A., Chicago and New York in 2019, said Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

“When there are violent and particularly prolonged conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, it translates into an increase in antisemitic hate crime here in the United States that really shows up in the data,” Levin said, noting that the same can also be true for anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment.

Hate crimes against Muslim Americans have also been rising sharply in recent years. A Los Angeles city report released last year showed anti-Muslim hate cases more than doubled, with officials stressing that there were probably many more that never got reported.

Thousands of protesters gathered Saturday in Westwood to demonstrate support for Palestinians amid violence that’s claimed a spiraling casualty toll in Gaza and Israel.

Earlier Tuesday, pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles as part of a “Global Day of Action” organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement to protest the violence overseas.

Over the weekend, thousands of protesters also gathered in Westwood to show support for Palestinians.

In Fresno, police are investigating incidents in which opposing protesters say they were hit with pepper spray during heated demonstrations.

In one incident Saturday, Palestinian rights advocates reported they were assaulted with pepper spray by another driver, the Fresno Bee reported. In a second incident Tuesday, a man who appeared to be a pro-Israel supporter said he was the victim of an attack with the chemical.

Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax neighborhood, near where the L.A. attacks occurred, is home to many synagogues and religious schools.

People who live or worship there are often identifiable as Jewish by their clothing.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft, who owns a Judaica store on Beverly, said that on Shabbat, celebrated every Friday evening, passersby frequently yell taunts like “dirty Jew.”

Lately, he said, the antisemitism has escalated.

“We hate to see that, because we love America, and we love freedom and we love truth,” he said behind the counter of the Mitzvah Store, “and we just hope the violence doesn’t spread here.”

Devorah Weiss, 14, said everyone at her school has been talking about the attacks.

“Everyone’s really upset that this is happening,” Weiss said.

She has not experienced antisemitism herself, she said, but family members have spoken about mistreatment.

Tovah Goldman grew up in the area and said that nothing like Tuesday’s restaurant attack had happened before, even during previous periods of violence in the Middle East.

“It’s scary, because it kind of takes you back to like what generations before us experienced,” said Goldman, 28, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, while seated in an SUV with her two young children in the back seat.

Still, she said, she will continue to wear clothes that might identify her as Jewish, including a head covering she sometimes sports.

“I think I should be proud of who I am, because, being a Jew, I do nothing wrong,” she said.


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