Zionist leader offers doubt about Shangri-La verdict

After the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner, Tehmina Adaya, were found guilty in August of discriminating against a group of Jews who had come to a party held on the hotel pool’s deck, Steven Goldberg, national vice chair of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), announced his group’s intention to protest outside the hotel. 

A Shangri-La representative reached out to Goldberg, who eventually called off the protest after the hotel offered concessions, which included granting a local Zionist group the right to hold a party at the hotel. The party — a Purim-themed costume party to benefit a new hardline group called the Creative Zionist Coalition (CZC) — took place on Feb. 24. 

Standing on the balcony of the Shangri-La’s penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Goldberg said he had, in the six months that had passed since the trial concluded, developed some doubt about what may actually have transpired at the hotel more than two years ago.

“She shouldn’t have kicked them out,” said Goldberg, an experienced litigator, referring to actions taken by Adaya and hotel staff during a July 2010 party to benefit the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ young leadership division. 

But from what he had heard and read in press accounts of the trial, Goldberg said he is not certain that Adaya actually made the profane, inflammatory and anti-Semitic comment that one employee (who did not testify at trial) alleged to have heard her say. 

Nevertheless, Goldberg, who was honored at the party, was still happy to get the chance to celebrate at the hotel. 

“If she [Adaya] is an anti-Semite, then there’s no more significant location; it’s like having it in the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Goldberg said, referring to a Muslim holy site that sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. “If she isn’t, well, it’s still a nice way of reaching out. And they’ve been nothing but gracious to us.” 

Orit Arfa, who founded the CZC earlier this year after being fired by the ZOA last November, presented Goldberg and the evening’s two other honorees — anti-Islam activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer — with goblets, each one inscribed with a Purim-themed honorific. 

Geller most recently made headlines by posting ads on public transit in various American cities urging commuters to support Israel against “savage” Muslims. Addressing a crowd of about 100 people, Geller said winning the right to hold a Zionist event at a hotel owned by Adaya, who is a Muslim, was “a big deal.”

“Oh it’s huge, it’s huge, and kudos to Orit,” said Geller, her red hair and long white dress ruffled by the chilly ocean breeze. “If you’ve read the Quran, you know that Islamic Jew-hatred is a religious mandate.” 

In the courtroom where the original trial took place, less than a mile from the hotel, a judge on Jan. 31 denied a motion for a new trial submitted by the new lawyers representing the hotel and Adaya. The hotel’s lawyers have said they intend to appeal in a higher court. 

On Feb. 11, the judge ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees, which amount to $2.1 million, bringing the total penalty levied against Adaya and the hotel to about $3.7 million.