Airbnb’s action is immoral and could be illegal

An Airbnb event featuring Ashton Kutcher in Los Angeles, 2016, was disrupted by protesters demonstrating against settlements. (Photo credit: David Mercer/PA Wire via Jewish News )
An Airbnb event featuring Ashton Kutcher in Los Angeles, 2016, was disrupted by protesters demonstrating against settlements. (Photo credit: David Mercer/PA Wire via Jewish News )

‘On 19 November, Airbnb announced that it would be removing some 200 listings on its platform from Israeli settlements operating in the West Bank. After stating that they were ‘not the experts’ when it comes to the region’s historical discords, Airbnb justified the action by arguing that settlements were the ‘core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.’ For good measure, they expressed the hope that there would soon be a ‘resolution to this historic conflict.’

But there is an obvious contradiction in this statement. If the global hospitality giant, by its own admission, has no expertise in this area, why has it singled out settlements as the ‘core of the dispute?’ Why not single out Palestinian incitement and antisemitic hatred emanating from both the PA and Gaza? Why not mention the funding of Palestinian terrorism, the endless rejection of a two state solution or Iran’s violent anti-Zionism?

Airbnb has adopted a partisan approach, aligning itself with pro-Palestinian voices which single out Israeli ‘misdeeds’ as the ongoing cause of the conflict. The company’s pretence of acting in a fair or neutral manner is therefore nothing but a sham.

The wider issue is one of double standards. Firstly, within the West Bank, Palestinians are free to list homes for short term rent despite living in a Judenfrei society, indeed one where Palestinians are even banned from selling land to Israelis. A PA court recently sentenced two men to 15 years hard labour for precisely this ‘crime’ yet such egregious discrimination appears not to bother Airbnb. Yet Israeli Jews in this disputed territory are prevented from listing their homes for rent while Christians and Muslims are free to do so.

Moreover, the world is plagued with territorial conflicts over disputed territory ranging from Turkey’s control of Northern Cyprus to Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, from China’s annexation of Tibet and Armenian controlled Nagorno Karabach to Russian occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Homes are available in all these places yet somehow Airbnb has forgotten its moral imperative to discontinue them. The double standard is glaring.

Moreover, as the organisation Honest Reporting has pointed out, the policy is most likely illegal. American jurisdiction, specifically the Export Administration Act and the Tax Reform Act, both rule out a US ‘person’ from participating in boycotts at the request of a foreign government.

In this case, a corporate ‘person’ has complied with a boycott request from the Palestinian Authority which, though not a sovereign state, is arguably a government that has the responsibility of a country. The boycott in this case is the refusal to do business in Israel as well as discrimination based on religion. Quite rightly, Airbnb faces the threat of legal action following its decision.

So why has Airbnb acted in this way? The suspicion is that it is trying to remove itself from a UN Human Rights Council database of firms operating in the West Bank, Golan and East Jerusalem. The report is potentially damaging as it lists some 60 international companies doing business in these areas, all of which could be targeted for boycott and divestment if they are publicly named.

Nonetheless, regardless of Airbnb’s motive, the effect is the same. The Jew among nations is being treated in a discriminatory and high handed fashion. It is rank hypocrisy and, in effect, antisemitic.

That settlements remain a challenging issue in any future peace talks is not in doubt. Most Israelis recognise that there will have to be compromises made in order to secure a lasting agreement. But the corporate adoption of the BDS agenda flies in the opposite direction to peace, co-existence and reconciliation.

Those who lead the campaign to boycott Israeli products and services do not seek two states for two peoples. By their own admission, they want the eradication of Jewish sovereignty and a Palestine ‘free from the river to the sea’. By delisting Jewish settlements, Airbnb has put itself on the wrong side of the debate.’

About the Author
Jeremy is an author and the Director of B'nai Brith UK's Bureau of International Affairs
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