A plan to fund $1 million in security for Jewish spaces is amended after a protest at City Hall

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 02: Groups against a proposed City Council resolution to give $1 million in security services to Jewish houses of worship, community centers and schools. The proposal was amended Tuesday to bolster security at spaces of all denominations. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Groups protest a proposed City Council resolution to fund extra security at Los Angeles houses of worship. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

For the record:
4:07 p.m. July 2, 2024: Earlier captions accompanying this article stated that city funding was being proposed to pay for pro-Israel vigilante groups. The proposal called for funding for pro-Israel security companies.

A Los Angeles City Council proposal to give $1 million in security services to Jewish houses of worship, community centers and schools was amended Tuesday to bolster security at spaces of all denominations.

The original motion drew protests from both Palestinian and Jewish organizations that gathered outside of L.A. City Hall on Tuesday.

The motion, introduced on June 26 by Councilmembers Katy Yaroslavsky and Bob Blumenfield, comes after a protest in front of a synagogue in the mostly Jewish neighborhood of Pico-Robertson turned violent, the latest in a series of clashes in the U.S. over the Israeli war in Gaza.

A group of speakers voices opposition at City Hall in Los Angeles.
A group of speakers voices opposition at Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The original motion would allocate $400,000 to the Jewish Federation's Community Security Initiative, $350,000 for a contract with the nonprofit private security firm Magen Am, and $250,000 to the Jewish Community Foundation to bolster "security for places of worship, community centers, and schools, particularly within the Jewish community," according to a news release.

During the Tuesday council meeting, Yaroslavsky asked to make a substitute motion to be discussed at a July 31 meeting because the original motion’s context will change to provide funding to organizations of all denominations. The change happened after Yaroslavsky spoke with city officials and other community leaders, who made it clear that this type of "funding is needed beyond the scope of the initial motion," she said.

The new proposal will increase the funding amount from $1 million to $2 million.

"I believe this is an appropriate and necessary change to ensure that all faith communities across Los Angeles are able to access these funds while also addressing the urgent need to increase security of Jewish institutions," Yaroslavsky said.

The proposal is intended to mirror Gov. Gavin Newsom's California State Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which aims to provide funding for "security enhancements to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk for violent attacks and hate crimes due to ideology, beliefs or mission." While funding from Newson's program won't be available until the fall, Yaroslavsky’s proposal would expedite that funding.

Read more: LAPD, feds look for synagogue protesters as city mulls over mask restrictions, added security

Protesters at the City Hall rally, including pro-Palestinian and Jewish groups, spoke out against the original measure and its funding of Magem Am, which they accuse of training and recruiting former members of the Israeli Defense Forces to use “violence and warfare tactics." Instead, they argue, the money should be used to fund affordable housing and other community programs in L.A.

Magen Am is a nonprofit organization licensed to provide physical, armed security services across the United States, according to its website.

Members of Magen Am, created by Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, were present both at the synagogue protest and the violent counterprotests at the UCLA student encampment earlier this year.

Estee Chandler, founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, said at the Tuesday rally that Yaroslavsky and Blumenfield are "part of an insidious effort to perpetuate the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism to mislead confused and frightened people from speaking out against that movement's decades-long oppression of Palestinians."

The council members, Chandler said, are "disingenuously promoting the fallacy that more guns on our streets will keep Jews safer when we all know the opposite is true."

Groups opposed to a proposed City Council resolution speak out during public comment.
Groups against a proposed City Council resolution speak out during public comments. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

"Every dollar spent on additional policing takes money away from our public services that promote the well-being of our community members," she added.

The recent motion was spurred in part by the protest outside the Adas Torah synagogue on June 23, in which pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel supporters violently clashed, eventually spilling over into side streets of the neighborhood. Both sides assert that they were doused with pepper spray and attacked by the other side and that L.A. police did little to intervene in the violence.

The demonstration was vilified as antisemitic by national and local elected officials, but pro-Palestinian supporters say they were protesting a real estate event at the synagogue that advertised "housing projects in all the best Anglo neighborhoods in Israel." “Anglo” is a translation from Hebrew meaning “English-speaking.” The ad that ran in the Jewish Journal did not specify the location of the real estate.

According to an archive of the website for My Home in Israel, one of the companies listed on the advertisement, homes were listed at between $435,000 and $4.1 million in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank territories of Efrat and Ariel. Much of the international community — including the U.S. and the U.N. — says settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, which Israel disputes.

The protest in front of the synagogue was criticized by President Biden and Mayor Karen Bass, among other politicians.

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

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

Biden called the demonstration "dangerous, unconscionable, antisemitic and un-American."

Protesters oppose a resolution at City Hall in Los Angeles.
Protesters oppose a resolution in which the Los Angeles City Council would approve upward of $1 million for extra security at houses of worship. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“Americans have a right to peaceful protest. But blocking access to a house of worship — and engaging in violence — is never acceptable," he said in a statement.

John Parker, coordinator of the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice, said at the City Hall protest that Bass and Biden "wanted to encourage the fascist militia to attack us and deny the little constitutional rights that we have left" and the proposal will "inspire more racist attacks by the LAPD."

"What if the Ku Klux Klan was selling our land? If it occurred in a Christian church or a mosque or a synagogue, we would still protest that racist sale," he added.

Ron Gochez, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who wasn't speaking on behalf of the district, participated in the UCLA campus protest a few weeks ago as an alumnus supporting the student encampments. He said he was pushed around and pepper sprayed when a mob of pro-Israel counterprotesters attacked the encampment.

Ron Gochez of Union del Barrio is among the speakers at City Hall.
Ron Gochez of Union del Barrio is among the speakers at City Hall. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

“My life was threatened by one of the Zionists that was there," he said at the City Hall protest. "Will the LAPD spend a million dollars, will the city spend a million dollars to protect me, to protect us? No, they won’t do that. They’re trying to score political points with people who will fund their campaigns for their reelection.”

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

Interim LAPD Chief Dominic Choi said last week that a “mobile field force” tried to disperse the crowd at the temple on West Pico Boulevard after at least 100 pro-Palestinian supporters “attempted to block the entrance of the synagogue.” About 150 pro-Israel protesters arrived, getting into violent skirmishes with the protesters.

Multiple pro-Palestinian protesters told The Times that LAPD officers pushed and struck them with batons during the demonstration and that they tried to leave the area but were pursued and attacked by pro-Israel supporters for more than an hour. Counterprotesters also told The Times that they were injured and punched by pro-Palestinian protesters, and that they had begged the LAPD to stop the fighting, to no avail.

Bass and LAPD Cmdr. Steve Lurie denied the allegations at a public security briefing last week that police were told to do nothing. No officials, Lurie said, gave the other to "stand down and slow or stop any action."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.