The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages in Balboa Park says it is a "near utopian multicultural organization" that was launched in the 1930s "to create a spirit of understanding, tolerance, and goodwill" among various national and ethnic groups.
The House of Lebanon, a longtime member, says it isn't so. For many years, several members of the House of Pacific Relations have sought to build additional cottages. They include the House of Lebanon, House of Mexico, House of India, and several others. In November, House of Lebanon filed a suit in superior court claiming that New International Cottages, an affiliate of the House of Pacific Relations, was refusing to recognize the House of Lebanon's interest in the project.
In December, the City of San Diego, one of the defendants, denied every claim by the House of Lebanon.
On February 7, House of Lebanon stepped up the action: it claimed it is a victim of discrimination — a bombshell for the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, which boasts of its educational mission of promoting understanding among nations and cultures. Since this involved federal laws, the case was moved to federal court.
The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages "demonstrated their animus and discriminations toward House of Lebanon," said the suit. The alleged discrimination was "due to the Lebanese national origin of the members of the House of Lebanon," said the suit, specifically citing that its president, Camil Saab, was a victim.
I could not reach Saab, but got to Douglas Jaffe, lawyer for the House of Lebanon. The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages and the groups wanting to build more cottages "want to put a different house in there — not these Lebanese people," says Jaffe. "They wouldn't even shake their hands, and told them they didn't want them part of the project."
I asked Jaffe if this alleged discrimination was a result of the sectarian strife in Lebanon. He said it was "anti-Lebanon prejudice." He would not specifically say this is anti-Muslim prejudice, perhaps because House of Turkey is one of the defendants. (Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim.)
I could not reach the attorney for the House of Pacific Relations. Mel Weekley, chair of the Hall of Nations, said that, on the advice of counsel, there would be no comment by the defendants.