High-ranking Israeli officials have blasted Airbnb’s move to withdraw rental listings for houses in the West Bank, with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin – a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party – demanding that the company’s executives reverse the decision.
“This is a disgraceful and miserable decision and a disgraceful surrender by the company,” Levin said, instructing his ministry’s personnel to draw up a list of urgent measures to limit the rental service’s activity in the country, as well as to implement a special programme to boost tourism and accommodation in rentals in West Bank settlements.
The US-based company’s decision has largely been viewed as a win for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which encourages boycotts and other means of pressure against Israel to make the country reassess its Palestinian policy.
“This is an unfortunate decision that constitutes submission to the anti-Semitic BDS organisations and is based on political considerations rather than business considerations,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan.
Erdan also urged apartment owners who were affected by Airbnb’s move “to examine the filing of claims against Airbnb in accordance with the law to prevent harm to the State of Israel through a boycott”.
“I intend to contact the most senior political officials in the United States to examine whether this decision violates legislation against boycotts in more than 25 states in the United States,” he announced.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, in turn, accused the rental company of hypocrisy, saying that it “operates in the darkest dictatorships in the word and preaches morality to us”.
In a written comment to Sputnik, Arsen Ostrovsky, an Israel-based international human rights lawyer, said that the decision was a "complete and total capitulation to the global boycott movement":
"The regrettable decision by AirBnB represents a complete and total capitulation to the global boycott movement, which in itself is steeped in hatred, bigotry and Antisemitism towards the Jewish state. AirBnB's purported concern is that the homes listed in Judea & Samaria ('West Bank') are 'subject of historical disputes', yet that has clearly not prevented them from siding with the Palestinians, notwithstanding this dispute is far from resolved.
The international lawyer elaborated that the company's policy would apply only to "Jewish homes in the disputed territories, whilst they do not have any such blacklists concerning the multitude of other conflict zones and disputed territories around the world.""
"Conveniently, Airbnb also seemingly has no such ethical concerns about advertising properties in the Palestinian territory, where the leadership continues to incite, glorify and reward terror. The company's motto is 'Airbnb for everyone'," Ostrovsky said.
In a separate develoment, Jacob Magid, the West Bank settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel, told Sputnik that “whatever one thinks of the settlement enterprise, the decision by Airbnb to drop its listings for Israeli homes beyond the Green Line is not likely to have much of an effect."
"Nobody stays at the roughly 200 Israeli accommodations the company has been offering in the West Bank by chance. These are people specifically looking to spend time in the settlements; and they will find other ways to visit, be it through other vacation rental-platforms or simply through word-of-mouth. In many ways, the decision is a win for both ardent supporters and boycotters of the settlement enterprise, who will enjoy considerable media over the coming days and weeks. But once the fallout dies down, the impact Airbnb's new policy will have on the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be negligible,” Magid stressed.
Social Media Firestorm
Outrage also erupted on social media, with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren firing off a tweet, encouraging people to boycott Airbnb services:
Airbnb blacklists Jewish apartments in Judea and Samaria — not Palestinian apartments, not apartments in Turkish occupied Cyprus, in Moroccan occupied Sahara, not in Tibet or the Crimea. Airbnb’s policy is the very definition of anti-Semitism. No one should use its services.— Michael Oren (@DrMichaelOren) 19 November 2018
In a series of tweets, International Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich accused Airbnb of anti-Semitism, saying that it’s not about disputed or occupied territories, because the rental service has listings in “Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara or Turkish-occupied Cyprus”:
“Airbnb's approach of singling out Jews from all the disputes in the world will put it at adds with US state BDS laws, and principles of discrimination,” he said.
AirBNB continues to list properties in occupied W.Sahara, N.Cyprus, & Crimea, but won't list an apartment owned by an American Jew in Jewish Quarter of Old City of Jerusalem. There's a word for that kind of thing. Expect action under anti-discrimination laws, state anti-BDS laws https://t.co/wh2gupqbKP— Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) 19 November 2018
.@airbnb says it won't list places in "disputed territories" when those residences are owned by Jews, and not otherwise. That's not a policy about disputed territories, but about Jews.— Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) 19 November 2018
.@Airbnb has no problem listing tons of properties in Turkish-occupied N.Cyprus, where all Greek inhabitants ethnically cleansed, homes expropriated. Their "disputed territories" policy gets more interesting by the minute. Lots more info in forthcoming @KoheletForum report pic.twitter.com/uwVK9cHLjl— Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) 19 November 2018
Retired IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner also wondered whether it’s only Israel that is ‘being singled out’:
Editor Pamela Geller drew a parallel between Airbnb’s decision and developments in Germany that preceded the Holocaust:
Racist @Airbnb, this is how horrors like the holocaust begin. Delegitimization of Jewish state & dehumanization of the Jews. The German boycott of Jewish businesses in the lead-up to the Holocaust was the direct antecedent to the whole “boycott Israel” movement. BDS no different. pic.twitter.com/lukswvROCU— Pamela Geller (@PamelaGeller) 20 November 2018
B’nai B’rith International, the oldest Jewish service organisation in the world, condemned the move as ‘blatantly discriminatory’ in what it described as ‘yet another double standard’ against Israel:
Airbnb’s removal of its rental listings in the West Bank is a blatantly discriminatory decision that represents yet another instance of the double standard applied by the rest of the world to Israel. Airbnb should reverse this unfair policy immediately. @Airbnb— B'nai B'rith Int'l (@BnaiBrith) 19 November 2018
International Lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky also tweeted that the company had ‘caved to the Anti-Semitic BDS Movement’:
If only @Airbnb lived up to its own standards!— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) 20 November 2018
I want nothing to do with a company that has caved to the Antisemitic BDS Movement and believes it’s acceptable to discriminate based on race, religion or nationality.
So, I’m deleting 🗑 my @Airbnb app. Bye 👋 pic.twitter.com/QyGChn9qQ1
Et Tu Booking?
In the meantime, Human Rights Watch has urged Booking.com to follow Airbnb’s suit and remove listing for rentals in the West Bank.
“By ending its brokering of rentals in illegal settlements on land off-limits to Palestinians, Airbnb has taken a stand against discrimination and land confiscation and theft. It is an important and welcome step and we encourage other companies like Booking.com to follow their lead and stop listing in settlements,” Omar Shakir, HRW’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, was cited by AFP as saying.
In a Monday statement, Airbnb announced that it would be withdrawing rental listings in the Israeli-occupied West Bank:
“US law permits companies like Airbnb to engage in business in these territories. At the same time, many 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”.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel seized the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, more than 600,000 Israelis have moved into settlements on the occupied land, according to Amnesty International.