Pro-Palestinian groups sued over demonstration outside L.A. synagogue

Los Angeles, CA - June 23: Pro-Palestine protester gets in car that is being swarmed by Pro-Israel protesters near Adas Torah on 9040 block of West Pico Boulevard on Sunday, June 23, 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. (Zoe Cranfill / Los Angeles Times)
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator gets in a car that is being swarmed by supporters of Israel near Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles on June 23, 2024. (Zoe Cranfill / Los Angeles Times)

A local Jewish man has filed a lawsuit against two groups that led a demonstration outside a Los Angeles synagogue last month that ended in violence and national condemnation against the demonstrators, including from President Biden and Mayor Karen Bass.

Mark Javitch, attorney for plaintiff Ronen Helmann of Los Angeles, filed the lawsuit Sunday against Code Pink, a feminist antiwar organization, and the Palestinian Youth Movement, a grassroots group of Palestinians opposing Zionism and calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The lawsuit alleges that the organizations targeted the Adas Torah synagogue in the Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood on June 23 to “cause chaos, violence, and block the entrance to the synagogue, all because of their hatred of Zionism [and] the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.”

The complaint also claims that the two groups conspired or failed to prevent the violation of Helmann's 1st Amendment right to worship.

Representatives for Code Pink and the Palestinian Youth Movement did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Read more: Protest violence outside L.A. synagogue spurs widespread condemnation. Bass vows quick action

The groups have said that the protest was spurred not by antisemitism but by a real estate event at the synagogue. An advertisement for the event in the Jewish Journal said that information on “housing projects in all the best Anglo neighborhoods in Israel” would be provided.

According to an archive of the website for My Home in Israel, one of the companies listed on the advertisement, homes were listed for $435,000 to $4.1 million in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank territories of Efrat and Ariel. Much of the international community — including the Biden administration and the United Nations — considers settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under international law, although the Israeli government disagrees.

The lawsuit says that the event also included religious education and “opportunities for members of the Los Angeles Jewish community to make Aliyah, or to fulfill their Biblical obligation to live in the land of Israel.”

The lawsuit also claims that Helmann approached the synagogue and was immediately surrounded by a group of demonstrators, some recording him with their cellphones, calling him a Nazi, a baby murderer and a colonizer. It also claims demonstrators shouted threatening and antisemitic remarks at him, such as “Leave the neighborhood, we are coming” and “Slaughter the Jews.”

The lawsuit alleges that Helmann saw masked demonstrators walking house to house, looking for Jewish doorposts before taking photos of the homes and cars associated with them.

Read more: What really happened when protesters, counterprotesters and police converged at an L.A. synagogue

The demonstration that Sunday eventually ended in violence when fights broke out between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestinians.

The Los Angeles Police Department, which said more than 150 people were at the demonstration, eventually was able to clear the area. A pro-Israel counterprotester was temporarily detained and cited for carrying a sharp pole.

The violence prompted the U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland to call for a federal inquiry into the demonstration.

Helmann is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.

"We must hold them accountable for violating laws that protect access to synagogues," Javitch said in an email Tuesday. "Singling out a local synagogue merely because they are holding an event related to Israel is unacceptable and must be met with an appropriate response."

Times staff writers Summer Lin and Richard Winton contributed to this report

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.