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Shangri-La hotel owner testifies in FIDF discrimination trial

by Jonah Lowenfeld

August 2, 2012 | 3:51 pm

On a recent visit to the Shangri-La Hotel, this sign was spotted standing on the pool deck.

Until she testified in court on Aug. 1, Tehmina Adaya, who is part owner, president and CEO of the Hotel Shangri-La, was a silent but constant presence in the discrimination lawsuit brought against her and her hotel.

During the first few days of witness testimony, while most of the plaintiffs – a group of young Jewish members of a pro-Israel group – sat in a group near the back of the courtroom, Adaya could frequently be found in a rolling office chair, situated just a few feet behind her team of defense attorneys. And the witnesses who testified in this case – in which Adaya is accused of abruptly shutting down a party being held at the hotel’s pool in July 2010 that was organized by the local young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) – often talked about her.

When she took the stand on Aug 1, the jury (and a larger than usual number of observers) finally got to hear Adaya explain, in her own words, how the FIDF party went so wrong.

Most of the two hours Adaya spent on the witness stand on Wednesday morning was devoted to learning what she did and did not know about the FIDF group’s July 11, 2010, event.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, James Turken, peppered Adaya with questions about whether she herself checked the hotel calendar to see if the event was listed there (Adaya said she hadn’t, but that she had assigned her head of security to do so), whether she contacted anyone in charge of booking events at the hotel during the event to determine whether the FIDF group had a right to be there (Adaya said she tried to but was unable to reach anyone over the phone) and whether there existed some written hotel policy governing what groups holding events on the pool deck are or are not allowed to do (Adaya said that such a policy existed, but not in writing).

On this last point, Adaya said that today, a sign stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool. Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”

For a case involving charges of anti-Semitism, Adaya’s testimony on Wednesday morning might have seemed rather technical to some in the courtroom, and never more so than when Adaya was asked to explain the relationship between the hotel, which she runs, and the separate company called Domalury, that runs the food and beverage concessions in the hotel, including the poolside eating area.

At least one juror had a confused look on his face as Adaya said that third parties – like event promoters – could be expected to know that the Domalury was a separate entity from the Hotel Shangri-La because they would occasionally bill the hotel and receive checks from the food and beverage concessionaire.

Among the evidence introduced in the morning session was an image from the hotel’s Facebook page, advertising a public poolside party to watch the World Cup at the hotel, as well as undated pictures from unidentified parties that had been thrown at the hotel pool. Also displayed for the jury was an image from Adaya’s personal website, which included an entry in which she described spending a “languorous” day by the pool on July 11, 2010, with some of her “really good friends.”

Turken asked Adaya if the FIDF group had been causing her a problem that day.

“Define ‘problem,’” she said.

“I really can’t, ma’am,” Turken said.

“There was a problem because we didn’t know whether they were authorized to do what they were doing,” Adaya said.

Turken followed with a series of about five rapid-fire questions. Were the members of the FIDF group creating a disturbance? Were they acting in a drunken or disorderly way? Were they creating problems?

No, was Adaya’s response to all the questions.

Adaya’s testimony continued into the afternoon on Wednesday; the hotel’s head of security was also expected to testify at the trial that day. The trial, which resumed for a fifth day of witness testimony on Aug. 2, is expected to continue for another week.

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