Yachad, Airbnb and a new untogetherness

Like the vast majority of Israelis, I am pro-peace.  I supported the withdrawal from South Lebanon, the disengagement from Gaza, the Oslo Accords.  I would have voted in favour of a deal along the lines of Olmert’s 2008 offer, had it been accepted by the Palestinian leadership.  Which means that I would have supported Israel’s withdrawal from some 95% of the West Bank, including the evacuation of many settlements.

Don’t get me wrong: I never thought that ‘the settlements’ are a serious obstacle to peace.  After all, there was no peace when there were no settlements; and the sure-proof way to ‘stop the settlements’ and ‘dismantle the occupation’ – if indeed that is what they want – is for the Palestinian leadership to make peace.

But I know there are people – including Jews in Israel and the Diaspora – who think otherwise, who have come to resent ‘the settlements’.  I disagree with them, for the reasons mentioned above – and more; but they are entitled to their opinion.

‘The’ settlements?

But this is not about being pro or against ‘the settlements’.  It’s about discrimination against Jews.  A few days ago, Airbnb has decided to de-list B & Bs owned by Jews in the West Bank.  Their press release is dishonestly entitled ‘Listings in Disputed Regions’.  ‘Dishonestly,’ because the decision targets just one ‘Disputed Region’ – the West Bank; which happens to be ‘disputed’ by Jews.  This is not about settlements in disputed territories; it’s about ‘the settlements’ – the only ones inhabited by Jews.

Writing for The Spectator, Brendan O’Neill puts it better than I ever could:

So alongside being the only country that pop stars refuse to play in, and the only country whose academics are boycotted on Western campuses, and the only country whose dancers and violinists cannot perform in cities like London without gangs of people screaming them down, and the only country whose produce is routinely avoided by luvvies and liberals, now Israel is the only country that has been politically punished by holiday app cum conscience of the Twitterati, Airbnb.

The world is, of course, full of ‘Disputed Regions’; lots of them are subject to ‘settlement’ by one of the parties to that dispute; and Airbnb happily operates in quite a few of them.

The remains of Palden Choetso, a Tibetan monk who self-immolated in protest against the Chinese occupation and policies. {CC BY 2.0}

Formerly an independent (albeit relatively underdeveloped) state, Tibet was conquered by the Chinese Army in 1950.  China has been ruling the region with an iron fist ever since, in the face of visible Tibetan opposition – manifested for instance through periodic revolts and numerous acts of protest, including more than 150 instances of self-immolation.  The Free Tibet organisation (headquartered in London) accuses the Chinese occupation of causing more than 1 million fatalities among Tibetans; many more have been tortured; others live in abject poverty; the Chinese authorities are trying to forcibly assimilate the Tibetan population, actively discouraging them from enjoying their own culture, from practising their religion and from speaking their own language.  Moreover, China is actively encouraging settlers from among its own dominant Han ethnicity to move to Tibet.  No equivalent of B’tselem was ever allowed to operate in Tibet of course, so the exact number of Han settlers is unknown, but it is claimed that they threaten to become the majority in the region.  The Han settlers and ‘collaborating’ Tibetans are rewarded with economic benefits that are denied to the rest of the population.  In the words of the Dalai Lama:

The new Chinese settlers have created an alternate society: a Chinese apartheid which, denying Tibetans equal social and economic status in our own land, threatens to finally overwhelm and absorb us.

I found 300+ properties listed by on Airbnb.co.uk in Tibet’s capital Lhasa alone.  As far as I could see, they are all listed in Mandarin (the language of the Han settlers), rather than in the Tibetan language.  I randomly checked out 20 of those properties –all 20 hosts had Chinese (rather than Tibetan) names.  Quite a few actually disclose their origin in the ‘Hosted by…’ section.  “I’m from Inner Mongolia [a region in Northern China], writes the owner of Airbnb listing #25988191.  “In 2013, I resigned from a foreign company in Shanghai and then moved to Lhasa” – location #28316356.  “From Chengdu [capital of Sichuan Province in the South-West of China], came to Lhasa alone in 2013” – location #24162447.  “I graduated from Jinan University in 2012 with a master’s degree in journalism. At the end of October 2013, I moved to Tibet by myself.” – location #14696223.

Tibet is just one example.  In 1974, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus, conquering the northern 40% of the country.  The ethnic Greek inhabitants fled or were expelled almost to the last person.  No Greek Cypriot remained, for instance, in the seashore resort of Famagusta, which had been predominantly Greek.  Most of Varosha – Famagusta’s main tourist neighbourhood – was fenced off by the Turkish army and declared a ‘closed military area’.  Here’s the testimony of a journalist from The Telegraph:

Today, one part of Famagusta still remains entirely sealed off by rusting barbed wire, fiercely guarded by Turkish troops. Known as Varosha, it represents about 20 per cent of Famagusta and was the prime tourist area, comprising the stretch of golden sand, behind which stand skeletons of bombed and abandoned hotels and apartments, and streets of looted shops, restaurants, mansions.

The ghost town is heavily guarded by soldiers, and aggressive signs make it clear that this is a no-go area.[…]

For the past two years, I have been visiting the north and south of Cyprus regularly to research a novel. In that time, I have seen extensive building work taking place in the area surrounding Varosha, making it unrecognisable to former inhabitants. A large population of settlers from the Turkish mainland live there, their lifestyle and culture very different even from that of the Turkish Cypriots.

Ethnic distribution of the population in Cyprus before the Turkish invasion. The two communities now live separated, having cleansed each other out {CC BY 3.0}

Circa 40,000 Turkish troops still ‘protect’ Northern Cyprus and its ethnic Turkish inhabitants – including some 250,000 Turkish settlers, who are thought to represent by now the majority of Northern Cyprus’s population.  And who often live on land (and even houses) formerly owned by Greek Cypriots.

In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey must pay circa EUR 20 million in compensation to Greek Cypriot owners of hotels and other businesses.  In its Resolution 550/1984, the UN Security Council stated that it:

Considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations.

Needless to say, that request was rejected by Turkey, as were various condemnations of its ‘settlement’ policy.

Airbnb.co.uk lists 39 properties in Varosha alone (there are hundreds in Famagusta and the rest of the ‘Disputed Region’ of Northern Cyprus).  Unsurprisingly, the owners generally have Turkish names.  At location #24539082, host Ergin (a Turkish male first name meaning ‘mature man’) advertises his ‘Chic and Design Boutique Hotel at City Center’, which offers 36 en-suite bedrooms.  The hotel’s location is given as Kıbrıs (the Turkish equivalent of Cyprus), but the page also describes the location as ‘Turkey’.

Airbnb serenely lists locations in Western Sahara, Kashmir, Myanmar, Rwanda, Sudan, even a solitary one in Crimea. Let’s not forget the Falkland Islands, and a location listed as ‘Gibraltar, United Kingdom’ – a description that will surely rile quite a few Spaniards.  And dozens of other ‘Disputed Regions’ around the globe, many of which have seen horrendous atrocities.  And more: how many of the thousands of B & Bs in Poland are really Jewish houses taken over by neighbours – some as ‘reward’ for collaboration and betrayal?  How many belonged to the millions of ethnic Germans, Ukrainians and Lemkos that, between 1945 and 1950, were violently thrown out of their ancestral homes and lands?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Certainly not Airbnb!

‘Together’ with whom?

It doesn’t matter how you feel about ‘the settlements’ or about ‘Israeli settlers’.  Even if they were thieves and criminals, what justification is there for targeting them, while ignoring others who act in the same way – and much worse?  When one targets a specific category of ‘offenders’ (rather than a specific type of offence), this has nothing to do with ethics and justice; it has everything to do with discrimination and persecution.

And when Jews are (again!) subjected to such obvious double standards; when the words ‘Jews’ and ‘boycott’ are once more unashamedly spoken in the same sentence – you’d hope that any Jew worthy of the name would feel outraged.

Well, apparently not.  As soon as the news came out, a London-based outfit called ‘Yachad’ took to the social and traditional media to… express support for Airbnb’s discriminatory decision.

Of course, we are all by now accustomed to various As-a-Jew’s – people for whom bashing the Jewish state is their main link to Jewishness.  But Yachad claims to be “the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement for British Jews”“THE”—no less!  It’s their Twitter profile.

So why would “the” pro-Israel, pro-peace movement for British Jews (or even ‘a’ or ‘any’ “movement for British Jews”) support blatant anti-Jewish discrimination?

According to Yachad’s Director Hannah Weisfeld,

Recognition of the green line [sic!] is recognition of Israel’s legitimacy within those borders.  Glad to see @Airbnb recognises Israel’s legitimacy

Deputy Director Maya Ilany claims that

Contrary to Airbnb’s critics, the company has effectively reaffirmed Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state within the Green Line.

“Effectively”??  There is a Hebrew word for this kind of outrageous spin – and it’s not ‘yachad’: it’s ‘chutzpah’!

No, Airbnb has neither ‘recognised’ nor ‘reaffirmed’ Israel’s legitimacy – its press release contains no such declaration.  In fact, that official statement never mentions the term “legitimacy” or any of its synonyms; nor does it include the word “Israel”, though it does refer repeatedly to “Israeli settlements” and “Israelis and Palestinians”.

Of course, even had it been issued, such “recognition” would be absolutely worthless.  As a commercial enterprise, Airbnb was constituted in order to turn profits and make money for its shareholders; it is not in the business of conferring “legitimacy” and sovereignty on anyone and anything – nor does it have any moral standing to do so.

In fact, Airbnb’s press release reveals the trigger for their decision:

[M]any in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.

We know who those “many in the global community” are: BDS activists and supporters.  Who, as we also know, consider the entire Israel “lands where people have been displaced.”

In fact, Airbnb’s decision is one of “2 big BDS victories” described in a gleeful Palestine Solidarity Campaign statement.  Far from differentiating between ‘Israel proper’ and ‘the settlements’, the PSC statement calls Airbnb’s decision “a significant positive step in the right direction” and wraps it together with

a host of other victories for the BDS movement in recent months, including decisions by artists Lana Del Ray and Lorde to pull out of planned concerts in Israel in accordance with the call for a cultural boycott.

Neither Lana Del Rey, nor Lorde had planned any concerts in ‘settlements’; both were scheduled to perform in ‘Israel-proper’, before succumbing to torrents of abuse from what the PSC calls a “coalition of human rights activists”.

No doubt in order to generate more such “victories”, the same PSC statement also calls for

Support the campaign to boycott this year’s [sic!] Eurovision in Israel.

I.e., the Eurovision Song Context scheduled to take place next year in Tel Aviv.

PSC is right to call Airbnb’s step a ‘big BDS victory’.  Of course, BDS is not about boycotting ‘settlements’, but boycotting Israel and her supporters.  But the BDS’ers will take it one step at a time, like a drug pusher who will sell you pot, before one day switching you to ‘the real stuff’.  Once the initial barrier is breached (i.e. once a person is persuaded that boycotting ‘some Jews’ is a noble, moral endeavour), it is easy to push further.  For instance, Israeli telecoms cover also the West Bank – or at least Area C.  If Bezeq (the Israeli equivalent of BT) stopped providing services to the West Bank, then not just ‘Israeli settlers’, but also Palestinians would be deprived of telephone and internet services.  But that, as we know, does not necessarily bother the BDS activists, who present Bezeq as ‘a company profiting from the Occupation’.  Or take a ‘report’ produced by a coalition of Christian charities obsessed with the Jewish state.  Entitled ‘Trading Away Peace’, it states:

Settlements in the West Bank produce a range of industrial goods, mostly manufactured in purpose-built industrial zones.  Like the settlements themselves, the industrial zones are a violation of international law, which prohibits the occupying power from constructing permanent infrastructure in occupied territory, unless it is for military use or serves the interests of the occupied population.

Yachad would no doubt claim that the report ‘reaffirmed’ Israel’s legitimacy.  But that was neither its intended, nor its actual outcome.  Among the ‘examples’ of companies “in violation of international law” the report cites one I am familiar with, in a professional capacity.  With a turnover in excess of US$ 1 billion, Keter Plastic is arguably the world’s largest and most innovative manufacturer of garden furniture, as well as household and related products.  Headquartered in Herzlia (just north of Tel Aviv), Keter sells in more than 100 countries – including a few Arab countries – and operates more than two dozen factories in Israel, Europe, United States and Canada.  One of these production facilities is located in the Barkan Industrial Park, about 5 miles on the ‘wrong side’ of the Green Line.  The workforce consists mostly of Palestinians from the area, with a smattering of Jews.  The Barkan factory produces less than 5% of Keter’s turnover, but that was enough to include it in the report as one of the ‘international law violators’; which further caused the United Church of Canada, the US Presbyterian Church and the Quaker Council For European Affairs (QCEA) to call their faithful to boycott it.

The QCEA is an interesting example of how ‘settlement boycott’ becomes ‘Israel boycott’ and further snowballs into boycott of Jews who support Israel.  In 2012, the QCEA published a ‘Discussion Paper’ meant to ‘inform’ their movement.  In reality, it’s a blatant anti-Israel propaganda document.  But arguably one of the most interesting passages is the one describing an example of successful boycott.  It reads:

Take the example of a boycott campaign against McDonald’s that has been carried out throughout the Middle East: “McDonald’s is a ‘major corporate partner’ of the Jewish United Fund. In its own words, the Jewish United Fund ‘works to maintain American military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel; monitors and, when necessary, responds to media coverage of Israel.’ Also, McDonald’s chairman and CEO, Jack M. Greenberg, is an honorary director of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry. McDonald’s […] announced it is closing down its operation in the Middle East due to loss of revenue as a direct result of the boycott (Oct 2002), and is replacing Greenberg as its chairman and CEO (Dec 2002). Since the launch of the boycott campaign, two of Jordan’s six McDonald’s franchises have closed due to lack of business. In Egypt, McDonald’s decided to change its brand name to Manfoods this past March, in an attempt to dodge the boycott. It had no effect and Egyptian police forces were ordered to guard the entrances to McDonald’s restaurants, after stone throwing incidents took place. A total of 175 restaurants will be closed at a loss of $350 million.

Note that the document published by the QCEA cites among the boycott’s ‘successes’ the purported dismissal of “Greenberg” (not Mr. Greenberg – as people would normally be referred to in Europe!) for the ‘crime’ of serving as the honorary director of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  Note also that McDonald’s – Middle East is brought as purported example of successful boycott in a document discussing BDS, but is actually – according to its description – ‘classic’ Arab boycott of Israel.  This is more evidence that BDS is not ‘a new movement’ that started in 2005, but just a rebranding of the Arab League boycott, an old declaration of economic warfare.

In conclusion, it is only in Yachad’s imagination – either self-delusional or deceitful, but certainly weird – that settlement boycotts ‘confer legitimacy’ on Israel.  Such boycotts are not meant to highlight the difference between Israel and ‘Israeli settlements’, but between Israel and all other countries.  For people who are less informed (i.e., for most people) the message is that Israel is the epitome of evil; a case on its own, the world’s number one human rights violator.  Why else would companies like Airbnb select Israel – and only Israel – for this ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment not meted out on any other state since Apartheid South Africa?

Yachad’s support for boycotts is a new development in the history of this organisation.  Yachad was founded in 2011 as a ‘dissent organisation’ which claimed that the mainstream, elected leadership of the British Jewish community (the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council) are blindly supportive of Israel.  Although its criticism of Israeli policies and actions was often acerbic, initially Yachad was opposed to boycotts of any kind.  In a website post dating from 2013, the group explained:

As a pro-Israel organisation, Yachad believes Israel should be allowed to thrive. Whilst we are opposed to the ongoing occupation, and do not support new investment inside the Israeli controlled West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, we are also opposed to a policy of isolation. […]

Using boycott as a policy tool also implies that the solution to the conflict can be imposed externally without a genuine negotiations process and that the responsibility for achieving peace in the region lies solely with Israel.

Assuming that the 2013 statement above truly reflected its beliefs, Yachad has clearly changed its policy.

Despite its protestations, Yachad understands that steps targeting only Israeli settlements are discriminatory.  Indeed, referring to the uber-controversial EU decision to label produce from ‘Israeli settlements’, Yachad refers to the claim that such labelling:

is inconsistent with the way other territorial disputes are treated.

The Yachad document further comments:

This is largely true. In a commonly cited example, tomatoes grown in Western Sahara but exported by Morocco are labelled as product of Morocco.

But the fact that Israeli Jews are treated in a manner “inconsistent” with how others are treated (read: they are discriminated against) does not prevent Yachad from supporting that discriminatory policy.  And their support for ‘labelling’ (which at the time was presented as fundamentally different from boycott) has now morphed into a full throated support for Airbnb’s boycott.

In fairness, this type of gradual radicalisation of positions shouldn’t surprise anyone.  It is typical of fringe organisations, that struggle to persuade and attract larger numbers of supporters.  They start by presenting what they see as a ‘moderate’ view, in the hope of branding themselves as a ‘broad church’.  But, since in truth they are anything but moderates, their leadership cannot fail to – sooner or later – show their true colours.

In Hebrew, Yachad means ‘together’.  Nice name; but the reality is, these days, that Yachad is ‘together’ with those who target Jews – and only Jews – for boycott.

Yachad’s “founding statement of core principles” (found on their website) opens up with a touching declaration of love:

We are Jews who love Israel, who stand with Israel, whose lives are bound up with Israel. We believe in its right not just to exist, but to flourish. We stand against those who defame it.

Nice words; but there is little evidence of “love” anywhere else on that website.  This reminds me of the proverbial wife beater who, when dragged before a judge, cried:

But I love her to bits, Your Honour!  I only beat her so she knows she’s done wrong and needs to mend her ways…

Love shouldn’t hurt.  If it hurts, it’s not love – it’s abuse.  Like all abusive relationships, Yachad’s “love” batters, not betters.  On behalf of the vast majority of Israelis – who resent boycotts and those who support them – let me urge Yachad: will you PLEASE love us a little less!

About the Author
Noru served in the IDF as a regular soldier and reservist. Currently a management consultant, in his spare time he engages in pro-Israel advocacy, especially in interfaith environments. He presented in front of Church of England and Quaker audiences and provides support to Methodist Friends of Israel. Noru is the Editor-in-Chief of 'Politically-incorrect Politics' (www.Pol-inc-Pol.com). Translated into Polish, his articles are also published by the Polish portal 'Listy z naszego sadu.'
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