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.

Shangri-La Hotel owner seeks new trial

The Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its partial-owner, Tehmina Adaya, who in August 2012 were found guilty in a jury trial of unlawfully discriminating against a group of young Jews, have begun the process of requesting a new trial. 

Attorneys for Adaya and the hotel filed three motions in California Superior Court on Dec. 24, including one outlining what they call legal defects in the previous judgment and another declaring their intent to request a new trial. A hearing on these motions is set for Jan. 31. 

The 19 plaintiffs accused Adaya of discriminating against them when she abruptly shut down a poolside party being held by the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) at the Shangri-La in July 2010. 

Jurors found Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law that ensures equal accommodations be provided by private businesses to all people regardless of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

Jurors awarded the plaintiffs statutory, compensatory and punitive damages amounting to more than $1.6 million. 

Adaya denied having discriminated against the group of plaintiffs in her testimony during the trial, and she reiterated her stance in a recent interview with the Journal.

“I didn’t do anything they accused me of,” said Adaya, standing in the main sanctuary at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena after a session at the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s annual conference in December. “Nothing. That’s not who I am.”

Adaya said she was unhappy with the performance by her lawyers during the trial; a new attorney, Steven Huskey, a partner at the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, is now leading the appeal effort.

“It’s certainly challenging to come in at this stage of the game,” Huskey said. “We think mistakes were made legally and in the pursuit of justice.”

The request for a new trial did not come as a surprise to James Turken, who represented the plaintiffs. “She has an absolute right to an appeal in the state of California,” he said. 

Turken represented the young Jewish plaintiffs on a contingency basis; in December, he filed a motion seeking $2.2 million in attorneys’ fees from Adaya and the hotel. Huskey said he intends to file a motion in opposition to Turken’s.

Despite the pending appeal, plans for a party to be held at the hotel by two Zionist organizations are moving forward.

The party is one of a number of compensatory gestures made by Adaya and the Shangri-La following the verdict. When the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) announced plans to stage a protest outside the hotel to express the “outrage” of the Jewish community, the hotel began negotiations with the group, and ZOA called off the protest after Adaya made contributions to two Israeli nonprofits. The hotel also agreed to host a ZOA party within one year.

Although ZOA closed its office in Los Angeles in November and dismissed Orit Arfa, its regional executive director here, Arfa said she is moving ahead with plans for a Purim-themed party on Feb. 24, staged under the banner of a new organization she has established, the Creative Zionist Coalition. ZOA’s Western Region, which is now based in San Francisco, will co-sponsor the event, Arfa said.

Letters to the Editor: Hotel Shangri-La, Daniel Gordis, Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project

Legal Precedent Set Before Discrimination Suit Against Hotel Shangri-La

In Jonah Lowenfeld’s article (“Young Jews Party for a Cause…” Aug. 24) it is disappointing that the unnamed “legal experts” apparently failed to have any knowledge of the California Court of Appeal’s precedent-setting decision in Pines v. Tomson (1984), which held the Unruh Act applicable to protect Jews who had been victimized on the basis of their religion by any and “all business establishments of any kind whatsoever.”

In Pines, a business enterprise calling itself the Christian Yellow Pages (CYP) refused to accept commercial advertisements from those who failed or refused to affirm an oath that they “accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.” As lead co-counsel with Michael B. Weisz, along with lawyers from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), we represented two Jewish businessmen and the ADL in a successful claim of religious discrimination against the CYP after it refused to accept a commercial advertisement from our clients for the sale of imported art tiles that were used by various church groups in fundraising events because, as Jews, our clients would not affirm CYP’s required religious oath. Our lawsuit, brought under the same provisions of the Unruh Act as those at issue in the Shangri-La case, resulted in a judgment for the plaintiffs, a permanent injunction in their favor prohibiting CYP’s discriminatory religious conduct, and a monetary award that ultimately led to CYP’s demise.

Richard A. Weisz
Klein & Weisz, Attorneys at Law

American Jews and Israel

It is true that we all, young and old, resonate with an Israel that “strives toward its ideal state” (“Fear and Daniel Gordis,” Aug. 24). As Rob Eshman wrote, young can give heart and body to this cause, but there is no room for passivity by we elders. It’s no help to sit home and wring our hands as we cry over actions by Israeli politicians that are so damaging to our visions of that “ideal state.” All of us who care about Israel are in that battle, and we should join with those activists in the United States and Israel who believe that the Israel of our dreams can be reached. It is up to each of us, young and old, to pick our spot, whether it be the New Israel Fund or other dynamic groups, and commit our physical and economic resources to this struggle.

Dick Gunther
via e-mail

Throwing the Textbook at Dennis Prager

There he goes again (“Lying for the Cause,” Aug. 24). Dennis Prager distorts the facts while extolling the importance of truth.

Without providing any support whatsoever, he accuses “progressives in California’s legislature” of abandoning “historical truth” by passing laws allotting “a certain amount of space” in history textbooks to “blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered.”

The real truth is that for many years existing law has required schools to teach about European Americans, entrepreneurs, labor, women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and American Indians, and prescribed specific lessons, for example, on the Irish potato famine, the Holocaust and other topics. In 2011, California wisely added the contributions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons to the social studies curriculum. 

“History should be honest,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in signing the new amendment. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.”

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

Grateful for Article Honoring Children of the Holocaust

We are deeply grateful to The Jewish Journal and to all involved for the beautiful piece you published about Trevor Goodman, Daniel Lerner and his brother, Paul, and Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project (“Remembering Children Who Perished, One by One,” Aug. 24).

Ryan Torok did incredible diligence and covered Daniel’s visit with thought and care. The result is a tribute to your newspaper, to this meaningful event and to our work at Remember Us.

We have received countless calls and e-mails from all over the country appreciating the depth and quality of this article and the important story it tells. There is no question that The Jewish Journal serves the Jewish community by connecting us communally through the unique individual stories we each have to tell.

Samara Hutman
Executive Director
Remember Us

Rabbi Finds Support Amid His Congregation

Many members of Congregation Ner Tamid (CNT) are surprised and saddened at the “allegations” against Rabbi Isaac Jeret cited in the article, “Rabbi’s Use of Discretionary Funds Spurs New Policies” (Aug. 17).

What a joy it was year after year to host Israeli soldiers at CNT during the High Holidays. Rabbi Jeret inspired a large number of congregants to attend the Washington AIPAC conference year after year. His leadership role in the Friends of the IDF and involvement with AIPAC were a reflection of his love for the Jewish state.

CNT became a nationally recognized synagogue as a consequence of Rabbi Jeret’s total commitment to the well being of the Jewish people. Under his leadership, the counsel general of Israel, Israeli leaders, public figures, politicians, clergy, AIPAC officials and others regularly visited CNT and dialogued with Rabbi Jeret.

Rabbi Jeret, with his beautiful voice, also touched the hearts of many at services. His adult education courses exhibited his brilliant scholarship. He married us, buried us, conducted bar and bat mitzvah services, and supported our children and seniors. Our rabbi was also a great fundraiser for the synagogue and for the causes he supported.

Rabbi Jeret did all of this day after day, year after year, with hardly any time off. Finally, his health seriously deteriorated due to his tireless efforts.

Please look up Isaac Jeret on YouTube and witness his special qualities that continue to serve as an inspiration for many of us.

Michael and Paula Ungar
Rancho Palos Verdes

Amanda Gelb (“Breaking Down Classroom Walls With Resilience Theory” Aug. 10, 2012) gets it right when she says that “cross-pollination” is a key to effective education. In DeLeT, our innovative program to prepare Jewish day school teachers for the next generation, we call this “integration.” We teach beginning teachers how to bring Jewish ideas and Jewish values into all that they teach, and how to use as many modes of learning as possible.

Mia Pardo, one of last year’s DeLeT fellows, who is now teaching at Pressman Academy, developed an innovative approach to teaching first-graders about national symbols by comparing and contrasting America’s and Israel’s flags and symbols. One day, the students became so passionate about the lesson that they spontaneously began interacting with each other as if they were the symbols themselves. They used songs and other aspects of what they were learning in their dramatic renderings. The teacher recorded these improvisations on her iPad, and later two of the students created a movie out of the videos, adding graphics, music, voice-over and still images all on their own during their free time. We look forward each year to seeing how the emerging DeLeT educators find new ways to make Gelb’s idea of cross-pollination a reality in day school classrooms.  For more information about DeLeT, visit huc.edu/delet.

Stacey Barrett
Education Programs Development Associate
Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion

Liberals’ Issues With Israel

David Suissa has it wrong (“Where’s the Tough Love for Obama?” Aug. 24). Liberals who are dismayed by Israel policy of dispossessing Palestinians and blocking all attempts to create an economically viable, sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel are not out to criticize Israel. Their target is American policies that promote, sustain and protect Israel’s policies that dispossess Palestinians and block a Palestinian state. Liberals want an end to the $3 billion that the United States gives to the Israeli military each year, 20 percent of Israel’s military budget, which is used to enforce the occupation and threaten to attack Iran. Liberals want the United States to stop vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions such as the February 2011 resolution that condemned Israeli settlements and called for negotiations. Liberals want the United States to recognize that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are stalled due to Israeli intransience, and to support the Palestinian territories’ bid for enhanced U.N. status as a way to change the dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

In summary, liberals push the United States to end its unconditional diplomatic, economic, and military support for Israel, and make that support conditional on real progress toward a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a way to assure security, peace and prosperity for Israeli and Palestinian people.

Jeff Warner

La Habra Heights

In an attempt to show that “liberals” are hypocrites since they feel free to criticize Israel for its own good but won’t ever criticize President Obama, David Suissa creates a straw man and then knocks it down. The straw man is the undefined “liberal” who, in Suissa’s view, criticizes Israel but not Obama. But he doesn’t name even one such person, and prefers to simply generalize about “liberals.” He quotes from an Atlantic article, but that article attacks only liberals who fail to criticize Obama. Nowhere does that article say that those same liberals feel free to criticize Israel. If these “liberals” who criticize Israel but not Obama exist somewhere outside of Suissa’s mind, he has not shown us where to find them.

Joel Grossman
Los Angeles

Where was the tough love for George W. Bush for eight years from Fox, talk radio, Charles Krauthammer, the Weekly Standard and a ton of other publications or in any of Mr. Suissa’s columns?

It’s called partisanship and for better or probably worse that is the tone of much of our public discourse, including Mr. Suissa’s last two columns.

Are the readers going to be subject to these partisan diatribes from now until the election? Does a gratuitous mention of “Jewish values” justify their publication in the Jewish Journal?

Suissa has valuable and insightful perception into the Jewish life of Los Angeles. This polemical material is easily available on talk radio, Fox News, other print media and the Web 24/7. I hope he returns to the area where economists of all stripes would call his “comparative advantage” over those political pundits.

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

In Defense of the JDL

I am troubled by your article about the death of Ari Rubin (“Ari Rubin Suicide Continues Pattern of Violent JDL Deaths,” Aug. 24).

Your he-was-JDL-so-he-had-it-coming approach seems to diminish the work done by his mother, father and Rabbi Kahane.

At a time when Jews are becoming more passive about observing Judaism and supporting Israel, a group like the Jewish Defense League (JDL), despite its size, remains a voice whose message is “Never Again” rather than “So what.”

While Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abe Foxman is correct in saying that the JDL numbers are low, perhaps he needs to look at his own organization. Many of our contacts have been from people whose problems, especially related to anti-Semitism, have been rejected by ADL offices.

JDL or not, a mother lost a son to an untimely and tragic death. Rather than find ways to belittle JDL, perhaps you could have shown a little more compassion. But I guess that doesn’t sell papers.

Sholom ben David
Chicago / Midwest Coordinator
Jewish Defense League


In his column “New Deli” (Aug. 24), Rob Eshman misattributed this quote to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” The person who said it was Ahad Ha-am.

Dear Ahmadinejad: Let Me Tell You About Cancer” (Aug. 24) lists Iran’s land area as 167,618 square miles. The country’s area is approximately 636,000 square miles.

The My Single Peeps photo of Brandon B. (Aug. 17) was by Malina Saval, not Joshua Plotke.