Hollywood Jews Slam Violence Outside L.A. Synagogue as ‘Horrifying,’ Vow to ‘Mobilize’

Members of Hollywood’s Jewish community are on edge and vowing to mobilize in the wake of a pro-Palestinian protest outside of a Pico Boulevard synagogue over the weekend that turned violent.

The protest, which blocked the entrance of Adas Torah synagogue in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on Sunday morning, resulted in a chaotic free-for-all, with at least one person hospitalized. The incident has sparked an uproar among some industryites, who feel the protestors crossed a red line when they converged outside of a house of worship.

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The melee, which began as a protest decrying an Israeli real estate seminar held inside the Orthodox synagogue and later drew pro-Israel counterprotestors, resulted in one arrest, though investigations are ongoing. President Joe Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted the protest, calling it “antisemitic,” while Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who spoke at press conference at the Museum of Tolerance on Monday evening, said “blocking access to a place of worship is unacceptable.”

“I was horrified to watch the events unfold across industry chat groups and only a short drive from where I live,” says “Pulp Fiction” producer Lawrence Bender. “As a Jew, I have always felt safe and part of a large, protected community here in Los Angeles, especially Hollywood. Clearly things changed dramatically between Saturday and Sunday. Not only do local police and government have to completely change their policy to help but we need to mobilize quickly to protect ourselves.”

Video from the scene showed a mob beatdown of Naftoli Sherman, a Jewish man who operates a mobile barbershop in the area, said to be the most densely populated Jewish neighborhood on the West Coast and home to kosher restaurants and grocery stores as well multiple synagogues. Sherman tells Variety he was hospitalized after his nose was broken in two places.

“I passed by like a group of like 10 to 15 Palestinian protestors, and they just jumped me,” says Sherman. “One guy punched me in the nose, and I was gushing blood. All the other ones were kicking me in the head. It was so scary. You’re getting jumped by a bunch of people, and the cops are just standing there and watching. They’re not interfering. The other Jewish people were the only ones to protect me.”

Hussam Ayloush, director of the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defended the protest, which was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement. “The demonstration in front of the Adas Torah synagogue over the weekend was in response to the blatant violations of both international law and human rights from [real estate] agencies that seek to make a profit selling brutally stolen Palestinian land as the Israeli government continues its eight-month-long genocidal campaign and ethnic cleansing in Gaza,” he said.

Industry sources say the Anti-Defamation League will host a briefing with the LAPD for concerned members of entertainment community later this week. But many have little confidence that they can rely on the LAPD for protection.

“There’s a lot of talk over the past 12-15 hours about self-arming and doing our own neighborhood watch groups and having our own self-funded groups,” says one well-connected industry figure. “This industry has now been mobilized because we are so unified and we’re such a powerful voting block.”

Also this weekend, pro-Palestinian protestors marched with megaphones in front of CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s home in a Washington suburb, prompting many of his fellow journalists to criticize the group and accuse them of harassing Tapper’s children.

Moataz Salim, who was one of the protestors, defended the group’s actions on Friday as peaceful and explained why they believe Tapper is fair game.

“Jake Tapper was chosen because he accused the whole student movement for Palestine as being antisemitic,” Salim says. “His rhetoric has very much been justifying the war crimes that Israel is committing, blaming it all on the Palestinian resistance, repeating the human shields argument, which for us is dehumanizing of Palestinians, and is essentially manufacturing consent for those war crimes and atrocities. So that’s why we targeted him. We also know he’s the highest-profile, name recognition person within CNN.”

But if the police response to the Pico Boulevard protest that quickly escalated into violence was deemed insufficient, the opposite appears to be true in Tapper’s case. Salim tells Variety that multiple law enforcement agencies were on hand including, inexplicably, two Secret Service details.

“We were very surprised to see that,” adds Salim. “Who specifically ordered or designated Tapper as someone who gets Secret Service protection?”

CNN and Tapper declined to comment for this story.

Back in Los Angeles, several people across the creative spectrum say they are rattled by the events that took place at a synagogue located a short distance from the Sony and Fox Studios lots as well as agencies like CAA. Director Jonathan Jakubowicz says he moved to Los Angeles from his native Venezuela to escape antisemitism and finds himself once again feeling unsafe.

“For the first time this weekend, I felt that I may have to move away from Los Angeles for the same reason I came,” he says. “The Jewish community has been doing a good job protecting itself, but the level of violence keeps growing, and I don’t know how much longer we can go on our own without the help of the authorities.”

Likewise, WME agent Robert Newman called the incident “unspeakably horrifying and frightening” and adds, “This is like Charlottesville every day. And from their actions, it’s clear that these violent anti-Israel mobs feel even more emboldened and justified to threaten and attack Jews anytime and anywhere, at schools, restaurants, subways, hospitals, Holocaust museums, synagogues, in their neighborhoods and homes.”

Writer William Schmidt, who is currently a consulting producer on “Tulsa King,” thinks that Hollywood’s Jewish community has been too passive in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which exposed a major rift in Hollywood, with anti-Israel sentiment gaining traction in an industry that had once been unified in support of the Jewish state. He says that timidity continues in the wake of the synagogue incident.

“I am discouraged and disgraced by the silence to these events by Jewish entertainment professionals — powerful and wealthy showrunners for instance,” Schmidt says. “We are a powerful, wealthy group — and we have done nothing — getting the guilds to allow us to have Jewish affinity groups. Big deal.”

As temperatures rise in the summer months, so too are tensions. And few expect things to normalize anytime soon. On one private WhatsApp chain popular with Hollywood Jews, participants were sharing an Instagram story from UCLA’s Cultural Affairs Commission, a student organization at the university that traditionally has been a feeder school to the industry. The story, a repost of a message written by Vishal P. Singh, a videographer who works on Netflix documentaries, illustrates the stark difference in perspectives on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

“Think about what happened today in Los Angeles. A real estate event to sell stolen Palestinian land cannot be protested or fascists will try to kill you,” Singh wrote. “LAPD threatening to execute pro-Palestine protestors at gun point. Zionists getting away with terrorist violence with impunity. We are in a cold war that is heating up rapidly. Prepare accordingly. Take a stop the bleed class. Learn how to use weapons safely. Save up for bullet proof armor. The genocide is not far away. It’s here. The heart of the empire is here. It’s our duty to fight and stop it by any means necessary.”

Neither UCLA nor Singh responded to a request for comment.

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