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Israeli Leaders Rebuke Airbnb for Removing Listings in West Bank Settlements

Person walks on street inside Israeli settlement of Efrat in West Bank / Getty
• November 19, 2018 4:02 pm

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Airbnb announced Monday that it will remove listings for properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, blacklisting about 200 homes in the disputed territory.

The company, which creates an online marketplace for people to rent out their homes and apartments to travelers as an alternative to hotels, released a lengthy statement about its decision, which was met with harsh criticism from Israeli leaders, who described the move as a capitulation to anti-Israel interests.

"There are conflicting views regarding whether companies should be doing business in the occupied territories that are the subject of historical disputes between Israelis and Palestinians," the company said, acknowledging past criticism before discussing its decision to reconsider its old policy of operating in the West Bank. The company claimed to have consulted with "various experts."

"We are most certainly not the experts when it comes to the historical disputes in this region. Our team has wrestled with this issue and we have struggled to come up with the right approach," Airbnb added. "When we applied our decision-making framework, we concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians."

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin ripped Airbnb for the decision, calling it "the most wretched of wretched capitulations to the boycott efforts." He said the new policy is "discriminatory" and told his office to draw up measures "to limit the company's activity across the country."

Oded Revivi, mayor  of the settlement of Efrat, called the move "an injustice to Israelis living in [the West Bank], constitutes a surrender to extremists, and is a mistake that distances peace," according to the Times of Israel.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said that he would speak with U.S. officials and find out whether Airbnb has violated American laws against Israeli boycotts.

"National conflicts exist all over the world" so Airbnb  "will have to explain why they specifically, and uniquely, chose to implement this political and discriminatory decision in the case of citizens of the State of Israel," Erdan said.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren savaged the company's policy as "the very definition of anti-Semitism."

"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," he said. "No one should use its services."

The company conceded that "people will disagree with this decision."

"This is a controversial issue," Airbnb said. "There are many strong views as it relates to lands that have been the subject of historic and intense disputes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Airbnb has deep respect for those views. Our hope is that someday sooner rather than later, a framework is put in place where the entire global community is aligned so there will be a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow."

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat lauded the move but complained it does not apply to East Jerusalem, which Israel took control of following its victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Airbnb's decision also does not appear to apply to the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed in 1981 in a move that was not recognized internationally, the Times of Israel reported.

In recent years, Airbnb has faced criticism from Palestinians for hosting Israeli listings in the West Bank that failed to mention the property was located on land claimed by the Palestinians. Senior Palestinian officials and a number of NGOs have urged Airbnb to join the international movement boycotting settlement products or companies doing business in the West Bank.

The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement has claimed responsibility for pressuring some major companies to stop or alter operations in Israel or the West Bank, including carbonated drink maker SodaStream, French construction company Veolia, and international mobile phone giant Orange.

Palestinians and supporters of the BDS movement such as "Peace Now" praised Airbnb for the ban.

"International companies are interested in doing business with the State of Israel, but are unwilling to accept the continued military control of millions of Palestinians," the group said. "If the government really wants to eliminate BDS—then it will end the occupation."

The Anti-Defamation League has condemned the BDS movement as "the most prominent effort to undermine Israel's existence" and "rampant with misinformation and distortion."