The real tragedy of AIRBNB’s boycott

AIRBNB was – and still is – a great idea.

It’s a great idea because it helps people utilize underused resources – the extra space that they have in their homes, allowing them to make a bit (or more than a bit) or extra income.

It’s a great idea because travelers looking for less expensive accommodations than hotel chains have new options all over the world, saving them money and enabling many to travel on a budget.

But it’s also a great idea because it brings together people.

While I don’t have an AIRBNB listing (nor have I used the service), my brother – who happens to live in Modiin-Illit on the “wrong” side of the Green Line – does. He and his wife built a lovely little apartment on their property which they rent both privately, and through AIRBNB. I was a bit shocked that people would want to rent a space in his Ultra-religious neighborhood. It’s not that people aren’t welcoming. They’re quite wonderful. But it’s just…Chareidi. Not what I would consider your typical vacation spot.

But perhaps that’s just the point.

Tymoteusz, a visitor from Poland who stayed at my brother’s listing wrote the following:

Yair was one of the best hosts I have ever had. He was doing everything so our stay is as comfortable as possible and was available to answer any questions at any time – seriously…The greatest advantage of the place though is that it is located in a Jewish district – there is no better thing when you come to Israel and blend in the culture right away. As soon as you cross the gate of the private housing estate, you will see Jews dressed in traditional clothes and kids running happily around. The place itself makes you feel very safe and Yair’s neighbours are also very helpful and kind.

This lovely comment highlights two of the greatest benefits of AIRBNB. First and foremost, you actually experience the locale. Instead of staying in an tourist area or an industrial hotel zone, AIRBNB places you in a location in the most authentic way possible. You’re experiencing the neighbors, shopping at the local grocery store, traveling on the bus with the locals. Some tourists may not be looking for that level of authenticity, but for others it’s the greatest possible vacation experience.

Secondly and more importantly, AIRBNB connects people.

Yair, an ultra-religious Jew from Modiin-Illit, met and interacted with a student from Poland and his girlfriend. They seem to have gotten along pretty well. Why shouldn’t they? My brother is a pretty good guy, and I imagine Tymoteusz is great as well. Through this simple business transaction, two people from different countries, cultures and continents connected, interacted, and grew from the experience.

That is, after all, AIRBNB’s stated mission (other than earning a profit). They write on their website that,

Airbnb is, at its core, an open community dedicated to bringing the world closer together by fostering meaningful, shared experiences among people from all parts of the world. Our community includes millions of people from virtually every country on the globe. It is an incredibly diverse community, drawing together individuals of different cultures, values, and norms.

Indeed it is, as my brother’s experience demonstrates.

It is also precisely why AIRBNB’s decision to cave to demands from Human Rights Watch and the Palestinian Authority is so damaging, dangerous and wrong.

Those in favoring of boycotting Jews living in Judea and Samaria seek to achieve the exact opposite of AIRBNB’s stated mission. They don’t want people visiting my brother in Modiin Illit, or a Jewish apartment in Shiloh or Mitzpe Yericho, and learning that the residents are regular, wonderful people. They don’t want people hearing their stories, sharing a cup of coffee, and connecting.

Rather than fostering “meaningful, shared experiences” they want to dehumanize and objectify the Jews living in Judea and Samaria so that they don’t have to address their feelings, positions or needs. Instead, they can then simply call them “criminals” who “violate international law”. That’s much easier to do when you’re not dealing with actual people, but a group of illegal settlers.

That the real shame of this sad capitulation.

AIRBNB, rather than serve as a source of discord in dispute, as you take one side in what is a very two-sided argument, you should return to your roots and continue to foster human interactions in all areas of the world through the services that you offer.

You were misled. The decision to single out offending properties will not foster peace, but instead cause greater discord.

It’s never too late to acknowledge a bad decision, especially when it conflicts with your core values.

AIRBNB, undo this boycott and get back to bringing people together and creating human connections around the world, including Judea and Samaria.

About the Author
Raised in Silver Spring, MD, Reuven Spolter served as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oak Park in Michigan until his aliyah in 2008. He then served as a Judaic studies instructor and Academic Coordinator of the Elkana Campus of the Orot College of Education from 2008 until 2018. Today he is the director of OTS Amiel BaKehila, which sends delegations of educators, Israel-Engagers and Jewish artists to small and medium-sized Jewish communities around the world. Rabbi Spolter also serves as the Shorashim Coordinator for English-speaking countries for Irgun Rabbanei Tzohar. A graduate of Yeshiva University with an MA in Secondary Jewish Education and Rabbinic Ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological Seminary, he has taught and lectured to groups of all ages in communities around the world. Rabbi Spolter lives with his family in Yad Binyamin, Israel
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