By Vic Gerami
Yesterday, April 2nd, Los Angeles Councilman, Paul Koretz had a press conference and called for a boycott of all properties owned by the government of Brunei for the Kingdom’s enactment of a law making homosexual sex punishable by death. Koretz will also introduce a City Council resolution against Brunei’s policies.
Council Member Koretz spoke to me in an exclusive interview about his decision to introduce the resolution, next steps for the resolution and what the public can do to support it.
Council Member Koretz, how did this trailblazing move by you come about?
We have to take some action, right? Frankly, my neighborhood groups meet up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is nearby to some of the Canyons and the Bel Air Hotel. And so we actually are in a position to have some real impact beyond just the symbolism, but the actually take two major financial institutions for Brunei and tell them that we’re fighting for a boycott and if we could actually get people to stop going to their restaurants and stuff, attending and holding events at those hotels and they actually stopped being financially viable. I know that would be noticed by the sultan of Brunei and by the government of Brunei because they are very fiscally focused. And if they were actually losing money, I think they would take a closer look at the terrible things that they’re doing. I don’t think that’ll ever stop based on the moral imperative to not do terrible things like a stoning or flogging people to death for being gay or for engaging in adultery or being accused of adultery.
The other frightening thing is that these new laws would apply to not only Muslims but non-Muslims, foreigners, even if they’re visiting or on an aircraft or both. This is actually pretty dangerous stuff. We could see Americans visiting Brunei and getting the death penalty for engaging in some very innocuous action. So because of our location, especially the location of my district where we can go beyond the symbolism of pointing out that these are the most barbaric set of laws passed in the century, but actually have some fiscal impact. I’m been very focused on making sure that we introduce these resolutions. This one is co-presented with Council Members Mitch O’Farrell and Mike Bonin, the two gay council members in Los Angeles of course. And so, we are all in sync along with Council President, Herb Weston, who is the secondary in saying that this is wildly inappropriate, unimaginable and we have to do everything we can to try to impact it.
So what are the next steps?
Well, it was just introduced today. So it will be referred to a committee which will either vote on it or just wave it to the Council floor, which would save us a couple of weeks in the process. Hopefully the Council will vote on it. I would imagine it will be a unanimous vote. If not, it’ll be pretty darn close. It’ll be signed by the Mayor. And then, we will take various actions including officially joining the boycott of these two hotels, call for an end to conducting business with those hotels, not participating in any events or business that include city resources, officially discouraging all city employees and residents from staying at those hotels or attending any functions there, until and unless the government of Brunei repeals these terrible, cruel, inhumane laws. We would also, at the same time as part of our legislative program, support any legislation or administrative action that would condemn the government of Brunei for adopting these terrible laws.
And those of course include things with like, execution by stoning and flogging for being gay or engaging in adultery, severing of limbs for theft and other petty crimes, etc… Some of the other things we would have been horrified to see if we were living in the 1500s, much less where we are now. It’s just unthinkable when they actually start executing people for these things and slicing off limbs. I think it’ll be even easier to move this boycott forward more aggressively. Already, by having some cities do it by having a number of very visible, celebrities like George Clooney and others do this. I think we’re, we’re getting this boycott to a point where it will be taken seriously and be beyond just the important of symbolism, but may actually be able to impact these hotels.
Do you anticipate any pushback from anyone locally, any organizations, committees or anyone who is not going to think that it’s a good idea?
I think a little bit from some members of some local and community groups, neighborhood councils and the HOAs, because it’s always been a convenience for them to meet either at the Beverly Hills Hotel, even though they are in my district or the Bel Air Hotel. Sometimes the Beverly Hills Hotel, I think has provided free space for it or some of the local government groups. There’s nothing that we object to about the hotels themselves, but it’s the ownership of the incredible horror things that they’re about to embark on it their country. So we ask our local organizations to, even though it’s really convenient to have a hotel across the street where you can have meetings and have lunch meetings and discuss issues and have annual board meetings or monthly board meeting, we ask them to join us as in that, not yielding to that convenience, but to focus on the terrible things that we are helping to perpetrate by supporting those hotels. And if we can get our local people to stop patronizing them, it’s step in the right direction. Once this gets broader publicity worldwide, hopefully we can get visitors to stop using these hotels as they have over the years. And I think if we see that happen, there’s no question that this is a country that cares a lot about its finances. And it’s definitely the Bel Air Hotel and the Beverly Hills hotel would be losing money, I think they might well rethink their strategy.
A few ago, there was a similar boycott. One of the things that came up was the labor unions, you know, the staff that work there. The argument was that we are hurting employees and staff. Do you anticipate anything like that from the unions?
It’s possible and frankly, you probably can’t find anyone more supportive of the labor movement and unions than me. But I think in this case we have to look at the broader issue. And especially now, I think we have to push harder because we’ve gone from the passage of laws but weren’t enforced to the fact that the government has now announced they’re going to implement it and they actually will take gay people that they find and stone them or whip them to death. I think that happens a couple of times and people have to rethink that issue. As, as much as I feel bad and I don’t really want anyone to lose their job, I think this is so much of a bigger issue that I think we have to look at the biggest issue and we have to look at whether we could get the Brunei is divest of these hotels so that we don’t have to be complicit in the evil that they’re perpetrating upon their, their citizens.
I have one more question. What can the citizens do to support your initiative, aside from the obvious of not patronizing these hotels and properties?
Those who are actually customers of the hotel, they should drop them a note and let them know. I think that would be significant. I think they should let their Council Members know that they support this. Although I do expect that this will pass the Council. They should let their federal representatives and even the president know, if they send Donald Trump a letter and he started getting some letters about this. I think he would have to think about it. I don’t know how open he will be to it. Certainly he didn’t bat an eye when they killed a well-known journalist and packed up his body and took it. So I’m not overly optimistic but I think if the Sultan of Brunei keeps doing bad things, it makes it harder for him to continue to say, oh, this is an ally of ours that we want to keep it that way.
FULL COPY OF THE RESOLUTION
WHEREAS, any official position of the City of Los Angeles with respect to legislation, rules, regulations or policies proposed to or pending before a local, state or federal governmental body or agency must have first been adopted in the form of a Resolution by the City Council with the concurrence of the Mayor; and
WHEREAS, the government of Brunei, led by the Sultan of Brunei, has promulgated a new law which will punish homosexual sex and adultery with death; any individuals found guilty of the offenses will be stoned to death, according to a new penal code; and
WHEREAS, statutes allowing stoning and amputation will go into effect on April 3, according to an announcement posted by the country’s attorney general last year that has only recently received notice; and
WHEREAS, Brunei’s Penal Code is a deeply flawed piece of legislation containing a range of provisions that violate human rights; in addition to imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, it blatantly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief, and codifies discrimination against women and girls; and
WHEREAS, the new laws allowing for penalties including whipping and stoning also introduce amputation of hands or feet as a punishment for robbery; and
WHEREAS, under the new laws, a person can be convicted of adultery or having gay sex and the laws will apply to Muslims, non-Muslims, and foreigners even when on Brunei registered aircraft and vessels; and
WHEREAS, Brunei should immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its Penal Code in compliance with its human rights obligations: and
WHEREAS, the United Nations has officially condemned these laws set to take effect later this week; and
WHEREAS, the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, located in Los Angeles, are part of the Dorchester Collection of properties owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the Brunei government, which also owns the following hotels: the Dorchester, London, UK, Plaza Athenee, Paris, France, Le Meurice, Paris, France, Principe di Savoia, Milan, Italy, Coworth Park, Ascot, UK, 45 Park Lane, London, UK and Hotel Eden, Rome, Italy; and
WHEREAS, several groups and prominent public figures have pledged to boycott these hotels and the people of Los Angeles should also join in this boycott;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the Mayor, that by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2019-2020 Federal and State Legislative Programs support for legislation and/or administrative action which condemns the government of Brunei for adopting laws that impose extreme and inhumane penalties including execution by stoning, flo gging and severing of limbs.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the Mayor, that by adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles officially joins the boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel Air and shall refrain from conducting business with these two hotels including participating in any events or other business that requires City resources, and officially discourages all City employees and residents from staying at or attending any functions at either of these hotels unless and until the Government of Brunei repeals these cruel and inhumane laws.
CO-PRESENTED BY: SECONDED BY:
PAUL KORETZ, 5″ District
MIKE BONIN, 11″ District
MITCH O’FARRELL, 13″ District
MORE ABOUT COUNCIL MEMBER PAUL KORETZ
Council Member Paul Koretz represents Los Angeles’ fifth Council District. He was previously a member of the California State Assembly and the West Hollywood City Council. He is a member of the Democratic Party.
For more information, please visit CouncilMemberPaulKoretz.com