L.A. talks of restricting masks at protests after violence outside synagogue

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

The violent protest Sunday at a synagogue has prompted Mayor Karen Bass to say Los Angeles should consider rules governing demonstrations and the wearing of masks by those protesting.

Bass on Monday did not offer a proposal but said the city needed to look at the issue — including “the idea of people wearing masks at protests.” A number of pro-Palestinian protesters had their faces covered Sunday.

The mayor, at an afternoon news conference, also said she was seeking city and state funding for additional security measures at places of worship in the city. Hours after the clashes, she ordered the LAPD to increase patrols in the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson area where the protest occurred and at religious venues.

Masks have been a part of many pro-Palestinian and some pro-Israeli protests over the war in Gaza, including on college campuses.

When a mob attacked a pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA in May, it was difficult to identify suspects because many wore masks that hid their identities. Police said they would use technology that captures facial images and outlines and compares them with other photos on the internet and social media to put names to faces.

It is unclear how the government could restrict mask use at protests.

During the 2020 George Floyd protests, some health officials urged demonstrators to wear masks to protect against COVID-19. Although coronavirus cases have fallen dramatically since then, masks can still offer protection, especially to those who have underlying health problems.

Earlier this month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was considering a mask ban on the New York subway, saying she was concerned about people with face masks committing antisemitic acts.

“We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” Hochul told reporters at a news conference. “My team is working on a solution. But on a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams supported the idea, telling reporters that “cowards cover their faces.”

Some civil liberties advocates opposed the idea.

“Mask bans were originally developed to squash political protests and, like other laws that criminalize people, they will be selectively enforced — used to arrest, doxx, surveil, and silence people of color and protesters the police disagree with,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

North Carolina has also been talking about a mask ban, citing Gaza war protests. But there has been pushback from some health professionals and people with underlying health problems.

One North Carolina resident told the Washington Post: “I’ve thought I should wear masks with something printed on it like ‘immune deficient’ or ‘cancer patient.’ But we should not have to do that.”

A new proposal now includes health exemptions.

There have been no formal proposals in Los Angeles, and it’s unclear whether the City Council would support the idea.

But a local Anti-Defamation League official expressed support Monday for a mask restriction. Jeffrey Abrams, the ADL’s Los Angeles regional director, stood on stage alongside Bass at the afternoon news conference and said the city needed to do more to protect the community.

“Just as Mayor Bass said, we need to look at every available legal tool, as the city attorney looks at existing anti-masking laws in the state of California,” Abrams said.

The Sunday protest was condemned by top officials including Bass, President Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

A pro-Palestinian protester gets in a car surrounded by pro-Israeli counterdemonstrators near Adas Torah synagogue Sunday.

(Zoë Cranfill / Los Angeles Times)

The protest began Sunday afternoon at the Adas Torah synagogue in the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood but eventually spread into nearby areas over several hours. Fistfights broke out between pro-Palestinian demonstrators — who said they were protesting an event at the synagogue promoting the sale of stolen Palestinian land — and supporters of Israel.

“Yesterday was abhorrent, and blocking access to a place of worship is absolutely unacceptable,” Bass said Monday. “This violence was designed to stoke fear. It was designed to divide. But hear me loud and clear: It will fail.”

“Intimidating Jewish congregants is dangerous, unconscionable, antisemitic, and un-American,” the president said in a statement. “Americans have a right to peaceful protest. But blocking access to a house of worship — and engaging in violence — is never acceptable.”

The law enforcement sources said the event was advertised in Friday’s issue of the Jewish Journal promising to provide information on “housing projects in all the best Anglo neighborhoods in Israel.” “Anglo” is a direct translation from Hebrew meaning “English-speaking.” The ad does not specify where in Israel the real estate is.

Protest fliers posted on social media said, “Our Land Is Not For Sale,” and condemned “land theft,” according to an Instagram post from the Southern California chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Los Angeles, said the site of the demonstration was chosen not because it was in front of a synagogue but because of the event it was hosting.

The protest “was in response to the blatant violations of both international law and human rights from 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 in a statement.

“Elected officials and the mainstream media have politicized this incident as religious discrimination as opposed to a human rights issue,” Ayloush added.

Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, founder of the JEM Community Center in Beverly Hills, arrived at Adas Torah on Sunday to worship during afternoon prayer and was confronted by a group yelling into megaphones. Some synagogue visitors were blocked from going inside, he said.

“We could not pray well because these people outside were screaming,” he said.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.