(Photo by DAVID SWANSON / AFP via Getty Images)

The Pogrom on Pico Boulevard

I went to synagogue with my kids to learn a bit about real estate in Israel. Instead, we witnessed a street battle.

On Sunday, a synagogue in the largest Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles hosted a small, privately advertised event for those interested in purchasing homes or second homes in Israel. “The Great Israeli Real Estate Event” at Adas Torah synagogue wasn’t political and it had nothing to do with the Gaza war. But within moments of its noon start time, it became the backdrop to the worst antisemitic violence in Los Angeles since an attack on Jewish diners at a restaurant in 2021.

Over the course of several hours, with dozens of LAPD officers decked out in riot gear largely staying out of the fray, around 100 pro-Hamas activists attacked, bear-sprayed, harassed, and brawled with Jews up and down Pico Boulevard.

The police occasionally stepped in, but their main activity Sunday afternoon seemed to ensure that the activists were able to successfully shut down the front entrance to the synagogue, ruin the event, and harass Jews more or less with impunity. Dozens of video clips from Sunday afternoon have been posted online (a good roundup is here). The striking thing about the footage is that despite the significant police presence, there is scant footage of the police forcefully intervening in the numerous fistfights, brawls, and beatings.

I had come to the synagogue with my kids not to get caught up in a street battle but to learn a bit about real estate in Israel. As violence across America has grown without much pushback—especially in cities where Jews live—many Jews are thinking about alternative plans, or at least exploring their options.

It turns out that Hamas sympathizers have been keeping close tabs on events hosted by synagogues in America. They knew about the event in advance, and were putting out calls on social media via groups like Code Pink and the “Palestinian Youth Movement” to mobilize their keffiyeh-clad thugs to show up at Adas Torah at “12PM SHARP” ready for action. The same groups that promoted Sunday’s violence, it turns out, had also shown up at similar real estate events earlier this year in Toronto, Montreal, and Teaneck, New Jersey.

The social media posts about the event were designed to generate maximum mob outrage: “OUR LAND IS NOT FOR SALE! This Sunday, a real estate event will be marketing homes in ‘anglo neighborhoods’ in effort [sic] to further occupy Palestine,” reads one post. One doesn’t need to be a scholar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to note that there is no distinction made here between Israel proper and disputed territories. To them, all of Israel is Palestine, all of Israel should be destroyed, and every home inhabited by a Jew on any part of this land is a crime. 

These public social media posts are quite open about the goal of violence. “The Nakba is ongoing and must be confronted! FROM THE BELLY OF THE BEAST / NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.”

But I knew none of this when I loaded my kids into my car and headed over to “THE BELLY OF THE BEAST,” an American synagogue. My wife, who was out running errands, would meet us there.

It was clear from a distance that something was happening. Pico Boulevard—a major four-lane thoroughfare—had been shut down by the police, and an LAPD helicopter was circling noisily overhead. Dozens of cops in riot gear stood tightly together around the front of the synagogue, with nightsticks drawn.

But as I got closer, the truly meaningful spectacle came into view: behind the phalanx of LAPD, on the sidewalk in front of the synagogue, were the Hamas supporters. When I walked up to the police with my boys and asked if I could enter the synagogue, they told me not to come any closer and said that I should leave. 

I asked calmly but incredulously, “Shouldn’t you be making sure this place stays open?” The reply was: “You should leave.”

Police were unwilling to confront, arrest, and prosecute bad actors. Jews were being policed in the name of “safety.” In Los Angeles and other big cities, and on many elite campuses, the message from authorities is essentially: things would be so much easier if you stayed off campus, avoided the library, didn’t go to your synagogue, and overall just stayed away from the mobs that regularly gather to confront you.

It’s important to note that this approach applies only to certain kinds of people. If a hundred masked Christian Republicans, say, had gathered in front of a Los Angeles mosque on Sunday and assaulted Muslims, we would now be several days into a national news cycle about Islamophobia and injustice in America. There would be joint LAPD-FBI task forces kicking down doors, and press conferences, vigils, presidential speeches, and multipart investigative reports from numerous leading publications.

How hard would it have been on Sunday, given the quantity of police on hand, to move the Hamas group a safe distance away from the entrance to the synagogue and ensure freedom of entry and exit? And it’s not just that this was entirely possible—it’s that this would have been the right thing to do, consistent with basic American values. We don’t do heckler’s vetoes here, or mob rule, and we don’t let masked thugs push around good citizens in broad daylight. Or at least that’s what I thought.

It was only in talking to people on the outskirts of the protest that I learned that the event was still on—you just had to find the alleyway behind the synagogue and knock on the right door, and there’d be an armed security guard who would let you in. So we did end up attending—but through the back door. 

In the midst of all this, my wife arrived, and also first tried to go in the front door. She was also stopped by the police and told “You’re not going in and you have to leave this area.”

I guided her via text messages toward the alleyway entrance. It was only as we left the event that the street fighting really picked up in front of the synagogue and, later, in front of Jewish restaurants and establishments along Pico Boulevard. A friend of ours who owns a small kosher restaurant a block from Adas Torah texted us a picture that afternoon of her and her staff standing in front of their restaurant holding baseball bats and knives, ready to protect their business. I immediately thought of the rooftop Koreans during the L.A. riots.

Why did it have to escalate like this? Because, as they have realized on elite college campuses and in blue cities across the country, anti-Israel activists understand that they enjoy something like immunity. They can’t murder or severely beat people, but pretty much all other criminality—vandalism, graffiti, trespassing, harassment—will go unpunished. It’s one thing to understand that from watching the news. It’s quite another to witness it—to have to rush your kids away from a synagogue because Hamas supporters are getting violent outside and the police are letting it happen.

The groups organizing and carrying out these regular campaigns of violence across the country are well known. They fundraise for and promote their criminal enterprise openly. They boast on social media about carrying out violence. Their assaults are documented on video from a dozen angles. They routinely break numerous state and federal civil rights and hate crime laws. They could be prosecuted under a half-dozen different statutes. But it never seems to happen. So it is very difficult to reach any other conclusion than this is all quite intentional.

If you think that’s unfair, just look at the statement released yesterday by Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass. She pledged to take three actions in response to the Pico pogrom: convene meetings, increase coordination between the LAPD and Jewish institutions, and ask for more state money for security. Notice anything missing? The mayor of Los Angeles isn’t even pretending that she will ask law enforcement to prosecute criminals who target Jews.

More than one friend and neighbor have contacted me over the last 48 hours asking if it’s time to leave Los Angeles. One texted me, “Can you see some assholes coming into our neighborhood and shooting us up, since the cops are clearly not doing anything?” I wish I could call her crazy, but her fear is legitimate. The cops are not doing anything. Nor is the mayor. Nor is the governor. Nor is the president.

Until political leaders ban masking during demonstrations; until our DA prosecutes criminals; until our mayor and governor instruct the police to protect Jewish institutions in the exact same way they protect other institutions; until the same rules apply to everyone, regardless of their identity, it will simply and grimly be true that California’s political leadership is upholding a two-tiered system of justice toward the second-largest Jewish community in America. And in that case, Los Angeles may not host such a large Jewish community for much longer. 

Noah Pollak is a Los Angeles–based political consultant. Follow him on X @NoahPollak.

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