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‘He was hunting Jews’: L.A. officials decry antisemitism in wake of shootings

Karen Bass speaks at a lectern that reads "Yula Boys High School" in a yellow-painted gymnasium, while people sit on chairs.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass speaks during a town hall to denounce antisemitism Monday at Yula Boys High School.
(Michael Finnegan / Los Angeles Times)
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In a school gymnasium painted yellow and black to symbolize the star that Jewish people were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, Mayor Karen Bass addressed a crowd of 400 who had gathered for a town hall on antisemitic violence after the shootings of two Jewish men last week in Los Angeles.

“Our Jewish community was terrorized, and that terror was felt across Los Angeles,” Bass said. “I have heard people say that they were afraid to walk in the neighborhood to worship this past Sabbath. I’ve also heard people, including one of the victims, say that nothing would keep them away from services. The fact is, no one should have to face that choice.”

The shootings occurred Wednesday and Thursday morning, as the men were leaving prayer services. Both survived their wounds, and a suspect, Jaime Tran, who has a history of making antisemitic statements, was taken into custody Thursday. Tran, 28, was charged the following day with federal hate crimes. If convicted, he faces life without parole in federal prison, prosecutors said.

Bass said she was determined to hire more LAPD officers and would also consider new law enforcement programs that employ cameras and license plate readers.

“Today, we’re not just here to stand in solidarity against last week’s shooting,” she said. “We are here, locked arms, against all forms of hate, bigotry and discrimination, because antisemitism goes against the boundaries of our city and goes against our humanity.”

The suspect arrested in connection two shootings has a history of making antisemitic statements, federal prosecutors said in filing hate crime charges against the man.

Feb. 18, 2023

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The town hall at YULA Boys High School, a modern Orthodox yeshiva in Beverly Hills, was organized by the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. In addition to Bass, who received a standing ovation, speakers included LAPD Chief Michel Moore, L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna and Donald Alway, who leads the FBI’s L.A. field office.

Rabbi Noah Farkas, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, reminded the crowd that Tran told police he was scouting in kosher supermarkets for people to shoot.

“Thank God neither of the victims died, but what’s clear is that he was hunting Jews,” he said. “The fear we feel is real. The horror we’re experiencing is real.”

Farkas mentioned other violent incidents across the nation, including the 2019 shooting at a synagogue in the San Diego suburb of Poway and the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“We have been assaulted, we have been beaten, we have been kidnapped and held hostage, and now, we have been shot,” Farkas said. “All around the world, the world’s oldest hate is once again threatening the safety and security and well-being of Jews. It’s being stoked by extremist groups, social media, political leaders and celebrities.”

Moore lamented the spread of hate speech on social media and pledged police support to prevent violence motivated by bigotry. The LAPD chief urged the public to turn over to authorities the names of anyone who seems to be threatening such violence.

“We want to understand who the individual is,” he said.

He reminded the crowd that California has strong gun laws and that restraining orders can be used to take weapons away from anyone dangerous.

“We’ll ensure they don’t have guns,” he said.

Jaime Tran has a history of making antisemitic statements and is suspected of shooting two Jewish men in recent days, a criminal complaint said.

Feb. 17, 2023

Luna raised the possibility of anti-hate instruction for detainees in the county’s jail. He also promised aggressive enforcement of hate crime laws.

“We have to hold people accountable for words, because words matter,” the sheriff said.

Tran, the alleged shooter, had a disturbing history of antisemitic threats, according to a criminal complaint. Years after his 2018 expulsion from dental school, he emailed dozens of former classmates that Jewish people are “primitive” and repeatedly texted another former classmate with threatening messages such as “I want you dead, Jew.”

Ivan Wolkind, chief operating and financial officer of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, said it is the normalization of hate language and imagery when it comes to the Jewish community that has him most concerned.

“I think it’s growing apace, and I think that the more people see it — from everyone from their friend at school to national figures — using these tropes and these antisemitic language and images just becomes more and more accepted,” he said in an interview. “If somebody is disenfranchised, if someone is looking for a group to blame rather than taking responsibility for themselves, it becomes easier and easier to choose the Jewish community as that target.”

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Evidence suggests that antisemitism is growing in Los Angeles and beyond. LAPD statistics show a 24% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes last year compared with 2021. There were 89 victims in 2022 and 72 in 2021, according to the department.

Meanwhile, the LAPD’s Hate Crime Unit reported 643 crimes in total in 2022, a 13% increase over 2021’s 567 and more than double the 257 recorded five years ago.

Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League has reported a similar trend. According to the organization’s annual audit of antisemitic incidents, there were 2,717 throughout the United States in 2021, a 34% increase from 2020 and the most since the organization began its tally in 1979.

In October, after rapper Kanye West posted antisemitic rhetoric on social media, demonstrators hung a sign above the 405 Freeway that said “Kanye is right about the Jews,” while giving Nazi salutes. This followed neighborhoods in L.A. finding antisemitic fliers on doorsteps and windshields.

Bass said she believes all these incidents were connected.

“I actually look at it like it’s been an escalation that started with fliers — fliers over the weekend, banners across the freeway and, now, a shooting,” she said. “And that’s why it is so important that we act aggressively and immediately at the first sign of anything.”

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