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.