Protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza abruptly ended Adam Schiff's victory party

Los Angeles, California March 6, 2024- Protestors yell as Adam Schiff speaks during an election party at the Avalon in Los Angeles Tuesday night as he seeks to replace Sen. Diane Feinstein in the Senate. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Protesters shout as Rep. Adam B. Schiff speaks during an election party at the Avalon Theater in Los Angeles Tuesday night. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

More than two dozen protesters shouting out calls for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip abruptly ended Rep. Adam B. Schiff's victory speech at an election night party in Hollywood on Tuesday night.

Early results showed Schiff (D-Burbank) leading the primary for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, setting up a face-off in November with Republican and retired Dodgers star Steve Garvey.

With a healthy lead in early returns, Schiff took the stage at Hollywood's Avalon Theater around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday to speak to a gathering of campaign workers and other supporters. About two minutes into his victory speech, he was interrupted by a group of protesters who pushed toward the stage, shouting, "cease-fire now" and "Let Gaza live!"

Security guards tried in vain to remove the protesters from the crowd. About a minute into the chanting, Schiff said over the noise, "We are so lucky, so lucky, to live in a democracy where we all have a right to protest."

As the protesters pushed closer to the stage, a campaign staffer and a security guard gestured for Schiff to leave. But Schiff continued talking, thanking former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), retired Sen. Barbara Boxer and California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas for their support.

Read more: Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather outside Biden fundraiser

Schiff said he found himself "thinking a great deal of Sen. Feinstein ... who was an incredible giant in the U.S. Senate." It was difficult to hear Schiff's comments over a shouting match between the protesters and Schiff supporters who were chanting his name.

Schiff hugged his wife, Eve Schiff, and left the stage, saying: "I want to acknowledge the right of our protesters, and I look forward to working with you all and onward to victory in November."

The Israel-Hamas war became an animating issue in California's Senate campaign in the five months after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250 during a raid into Israel. After the attack, Israel sought to eliminate Hamas through a devastating assault on the Gaza strip. That campaign has cost the lives of more than 30,000 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, and more than 240 Israeli soldiers, according to the Israeli government.

Schiff's opponent Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), told voters at a recent debate that she would support a Senate resolution calling for an unconditional and immediate cease-fire in Gaza. The three other front-runners — Schiff, Garvey and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) — said they would not.

Schiff told reporters at a Sunday campaign event in San Francisco that he supports the temporary cease-fire agreement that international mediators have been working on for weeks. President Biden has also publicly endorsed the deal, which includes a 40-day cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins.

"Look, we need to get the hostages released," Schiff said. "We also need to address the humanitarian crisis, we need to make sure we can get aid in and people out. ... The folks in Gaza are also innocent victims of what Hamas has done in provoking this war and embedding itself in the civilian population. I'm hoping that we get this agreement and that there's a pause in the fighting."

Read more: California Assembly shut down by protest calling for Israeli cease-fire

Schiff, the most pro-Israel of the Democrats seeking the Senate seat, has been bolstered by a wave of spending by pro-Israel groups in the final days of the primary. That includes a $5-million contribution by the independent expenditure arm of the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to an independent expenditure committee supporting Schiff's candidacy.

Such groups, also called super PACs, can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money, but cannot coordinate with candidates or give directly to their campaigns.

A spokesman for the AIPAC super PAC, United Democracy Project, told The Times that the group had made the $5-million contribution recently. It has not yet been disclosed in federal campaign finance disclosures. Schiff's victory Tuesday "further demonstrates that being pro-Israel is good policy and good politics," the spokesman said. "Rep. Schiff’s strong support of the U.S.-Israel relationship reflects the views of the vast majority of Americans."

Los Angeles resident Estee Chandler, the founding organizer of Jewish Voice for Peace-Los Angeles, told The Times after the event ended that she and other Jewish activists "know what it is to have oppressed minorities be slandered so you can normalize their massacre, and we will not have it done in our name."

"Our government and Adam Schiff have refused to call for a permanent cease-fire," Chandler said. "It is a disgrace. This is what genocide looks like. Children are now literally dying of starvation."

Read more: Biden is trying to balance Gaza protests and free speech rights as demonstrators disrupt his events

A representative for Schiff's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Cease-fire activists have staged protests at a number of Schiff's events since the war began in October. During a campaign event at a union hall in Orange last weekend, protesters interrupted Schiff six times, asking him to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and to stop supporting U.S. military aid for Israel.

Schiff didn't acknowledge the protest, instead continuing with his speech as security guards removed the protesters.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.