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A prominent Los Angeles hotel that has come under fire for hosting a conference organized by what critics call an anti-Israel hate group is standing by its controversial decision to permit the organization on its premises.
The L.A. Westin Bonaventure will host in November a conference organized by the American Studies Association (ASA), a controversial nationwide academic group that is known as one of the largest champions of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), which seeks to isolate Israel and its citizens.
The Westin Bonaventure, as well as its parent group, Interstate Hotels & Resorts, has faced intense criticism from the pro-Israel community and Jewish groups for agreeing to host the ASA.
Critics were most outraged by the ASA's original promise to ban all Israeli academics from attending the confab, a decision that was seemingly overturned over the weekend following weeks of protest.
The ASA's initial decision to bar Israeli academics from attending the conference sparked accusations that the group—and by dint the hotel—could be violating California's anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination based on national origins.
“California law prevents hotels from discriminating on the basis of national origin, race, and religion," David French, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said earlier this month following the sending of a letter by the ACLJ to the Westin Bonaventure. "We’re calling on the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, which is hosting the ASA’s annual meeting in November, to take steps to ensure that the ASA will not enforce its anti-Semitic policy during its annual meeting scheduled for November 4-9th. Simply put, we’re demanding that the Westin obey California law.”
Following weeks of pressure from the ACLJ and other groups, the ASA reversed its decision to ban Israeli academics. The decision appears to have been made around the same time that the Westin Bonaventure issued a statement to reporters defending the ASA's right to use its premises.
“The Westin Bonaventure does not discriminate and is committed to meeting the requirements of the Unruh Civil Rights Act at all times," a spokesman for the hotel's parent company told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement over the weekend.
"The hotel respects the privacy of our groups and guests, and we do not choose, nor refuse, to do business based upon ideologies or affiliations," the statement said. "We are in the business of hospitality, and if rooms are available, anyone may reserve accommodations and receive the benefit of our services.”
The ASA itself has reversed course in recent days, telling its critics that even Israeli "Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu can attend if he wants to," according to reports.
"The American Studies Association may be backing down from its widely-publicized decision last year to boycott Israeli academics," the Washington Post wrote over the weekend. "Or, more likely, they may be obfuscating and retroactively recharacterizing their policy to avoid civil rights problems."
The ASA maintains that it never intended to boycott Israeli academics and institutions, despite a portion of its charter that supports such bans.
ASA executive director John Stephens claimed the media and the group's critics had gotten it all wrong.
"Our conference is open to anyone, including Israeli academics and non-academics," Stephens told the Post. "If someone were to register for the conference as a representative of an Israeli institution, he or she would not be turned away."
However, as the Post noted, "Stephens’ claim direct contradicts the ASA’s own FAQ explanation of their boycott," which explicitly states that the organization’s "boycott targets [Israeli] institutions and their representatives."
Jim Abrahamson, the CEO of the Westin Bonaventure's parent company, has not commented thus far on the controversy, despite his close ties to the Jewish community and work on its behalf.