Zionist group to honor anti-Islam activists at Hotel Shangri-La


When the Muslim part-owner of a Santa Monica boutique hotel was found guilty last year of discriminating against a group of Jewish patrons, the hotel announced it would host a party for a Jewish group as part of its efforts to repair its reputation. Now, the Zionist group whose party is scheduled to take place at the hotel on Feb. 24 plans to use the occasion to present awards to two of the United States’ most outspoken anti-Islam activists — Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

Orit Arfa, former executive director of the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), is organizing the party as a benefit for her new organization, Creative Zionist Coalition (CZC).

In August, a jury found the Hotel Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, guilty of discriminating in 2010 against 18 plaintiffs — most of them young Jews — when she disrupted a party organized by the local youth division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. In response to the verdict, Arfa and ZOA National Vice Chair Steve Goldberg announced plans to hold a protest outside the Shangri-La, but cancelled the protest when Adaya, who is of Pakistani descent, agreed to host a party at the hotel for leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Adaya and the Shangri-La filed a motion requesting a retrial of the case, but the party planning appears to be proceeding unabated.

According to an email sent by Arfa on Jan. 18, the Feb. 24 event at the Shangri-La will be a costume party and “a celebration of Jewish heroism in the face of Jew-hatred,” taking place on the evening after Purim. At the event, Geller will receive the “Queen Esther Award for Jewish Heroism,” and Spencer will be honored as “Righteous Gentile.” Both are expected to attend, Arfa said.

A third award, named for Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was also announced in the Jan. 18 email; it will be presented in absentia to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “for Jew-hating villainy.”

Geller is the prolific blogger who led opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, which she dubbed “the Ground Zero Mosque.” She also made headlines in 2012 when one of her organizations, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, posted pro-Israel ads in the New York City subway system referring to enemies of the Jewish state as Jihadist “savages.”

Geller is a divisive figure in the Jewish community, as well. In June 2012, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles barred Geller from delivering a speech about “Islamic Jew-Hatred” at a ZOA-sponsored event that had been scheduled to take place at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters.

Arfa organized a protest outside the Federation building on the morning that Geller was prevented from speaking there. Subsequently, in November, Arfa was fired from her position at ZOA after internally questioning ZOA’s leadership’s decision to, in her words, “conceal” its loss of tax-exempt status earlier that year. The ZOA’s Western Region’s office, which had ben located in Federation headquarters, is currently in the process of relocating to San Francisco.

The ZOA, which has filed all the papers necessary for reinstatement of its tax-exempt status, had planned to co-sponsor the Shangri-La event with CZC, but it pulled its co-sponsorship a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, Goldberg said, plans for the party are moving ahead, and he said he does not expect any resistance from the hotel.

“They didn’t say, ‘We have to approve who’s going to come,’” Goldberg said. “The hotel’s actually been very cooperative.”

“What are they going to do?” he added, “say ‘This is too pro-Jewish?’ They’re going to throw another Jewish group out?”

Ellen Adelman, chief development officer at the Shangri-La said in an emailed statement that the hotel “is committed to enhancing understanding and cooperation between people of all backgrounds and cultures, and to embrace differences.

“Our hope is that we can come together and celebrate the theme of their party – Purim – a holiday designed to bring people together,” Adelman wrote.

Shangri-La juror said to have hidden her Jewishness


In court papers filed Jan. 7, attorneys for the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner allege that of 12 members on the jury that unanimously found their clients guilty of discriminating in 2010 against a group of Jewish patrons, one juror concealed her own Jewishness during jury selection. 

The attorneys’ assertion appears in a 21-page memorandum supporting their motion for a new trial, one of a number of post-trial motions filed in recent weeks in the same Santa Monica courtroom where the jury’s unanimous verdict against the Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, was first handed down in August 2012. 

In the memorandum, the hotel’s attorneys state that the judge who presided over the trial made errors in law, that the evidence presented was insufficient to justify the final verdict and that the damages awarded by the jury to the 18 plaintiffs — more than $1.6 million in all — were excessive. 

But of all the arguments advanced in the memorandum, the lawyers’ assertions about “misconduct” behind the closed door of the jury room stand out. 

According to the memorandum, Juror No. 7, identified as Yerha Vasquez, “failed to disclose her religious background, Jewish, during voir dire,” the process of jury selection that takes place before a trial begins, which lasted more than three full days before the Shangri-La trial officially commenced. 

The hotel’s lawyers cite another juror as the source for this assertion. In a three-page declaration also filed in court by the defense, juror Debra Clint says that Vasquez “often cried during deliberations about her pain and her past history.” 

Clint’s declaration does not include any mention of Vasquez’s religion.

Steven Richman, a partner in the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, LLP, who joined the legal team defending the Shangri-La and Adaya after the conclusion of the trial, would not say how he first became aware of Clint’s concerns about what took place in the jury room, but he stood by the memorandum’s claim about Vasquez’s concealing her Jewishness. 

“She [Vasquez] did not disclose her religion or the fact that she believed that she had been harassed before,” Richman said in an interview with the Journal on Jan. 10. 

Clint, who signed her declaration on Nov. 21, 2012, also complained about another juror, identified only as “Ms. Schellpfeffer.” Clint describes Schellpfeffer as “aggressive, forceful and outspoken during deliberations,” and also makes the claim that Schellpfeffer came into deliberations wanting to “ ‘stick it to’ the Defendants.” 

Clint’s statement alleges that Vasquez “aligned herself with … Schellpfeffer, and agreed and voted with Ms. Schellpfeffer on whatever Ms. Schellpfeffer said.” 

The defense memorandum describes Schellpfeffer’s conduct as “a manifest refusal to deliberate,” but one juror’s allegedly dominating deliberations may not be sufficient grounds for a judge to grant a new trial, according to an expert on the topic. 

“That’s not a basis for overturning a verdict,” Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the law school at University of California, Irvine, said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

In their memorandum, the defense attorneys presented other reasons to grant a new trial. They argue that because the organization with which the plaintiffs were affiliated, the Los Angeles-based young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, is not a religious group, the Unruh Civil Rights Act should not apply to them. 

James H. Turken, the managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro LLP’s three offices in California who represented the plaintiffs at the original trial, disputed the defense’s interpretation of the Unruh Act. 

Because Adaya is said to have instructed her staff to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the Shangri-La’s pool, Turken said the identity of the organization sponsoring the party that Adaya disrupted is irrelevant. 

“They could’ve been there with the United Way,” he said. “If they were Jewish people and she made that comment, that would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

The defense’s motion for a new trial is scheduled to be heard in court on Jan. 31.

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