(December 12, 2018 / JNS) A recent article in Forbes magazine reported that Airbnb’s decision to delist 200 Jewish residences in Judea and Samaria from its popular travel rental site is becoming a “growing headache” for the company, with new reports showing that it is attempting to offset the backlash by also delisting Palestinian dwellings in the area.
According to Forbes, several U.S. states are investigating the legality of Airbnb’s November decision to boycott Jewish home owners in Judea and Samaria, with multiple cities, including Beverly Hills and Miami, calling for a retaliatory boycott in response.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has stated that Airbnb’s move has “no place” in the marketplace; multiple lawsuits are being filed in the United States and Israel; and Israel has called out Airbnb, chastising the company for a policy it says is anti-Semitic.
Though Forbes noted that Airbnb removed 4,000 listings in Crimea in 2014, it also stressed that the decision was made amid U.S. sanctions on Russia for invading the island.
The decision to delist Jewish homes in the area came after Airbnb was approached for two years by Human Rights Watch, which issued a 65-page report called “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land.”
Airbnb said it would continue to operate in eastern Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights, but not “in Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Accusation: Inciting violence against Jews?
Several U.S. lawmakers were quick to respond to the new policy.
In Florida, governor-elect Ron DeSantis reportedly said he was going to reconsider state policy that allows employees to stay at Airbnb rentals while on business travel. Current Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s press office told Forbes that he remains an ally of Israel and “will review what additional steps we should take.” Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner sent a letter to the state’s investment policy board to determine whether Airbnb’s action breaks state law against aiding boycotts against Israel.
Airbnb head of global policy Chris Lehane said his company is “categorically opposed to the BDS movement,” yet social media was abuzz with praise for the move by BDS organizations and pro-Palestinian groups.
“They picked a strange dispute, a very small dispute and a very contentious dispute,” University of California, Berkeley professor Ron Hassner, an expert in disputed territories, international conflict and religion told Forbes, adding that Airbnb continues to host listings in more than 200 disputed territories, including Taiwan, Western Sahara, Northern Cyprus and Kurdistan.
“If you’re proposing a cautious framework, it would make sense that your first cases would be either very important or very easy. And you haven’t done any of that,” said Hassner.
The most recent reports show that Airbnb is attempting to display equal treatment by adding Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to the list of banned property listings.
According to a report by the news website Mondoweiss, attempting to list a rental in an Arab town in Judea and Samaria, including Bethlehem, Ramallah and Shechem/Nablus, results in a “country code is invalid” warning.
An Airbnb customer representative in Israel confirmed that the blockage was not an algorithm problem, but rather because the properties were listed in Judea and Samaria.
However, older listings for Palestinian properties have not been removed like they have been for Jews. When searching for a place to stay in Ma’ale Adumim or Gush Etzion, only Palestinian listings nearby are listed.
In addition, some leaders in the pro-Israel camp are accusing Airbnb’s policy of inciting violence against Jews in Judea and Samaria, such as the Palestinian terror attack on a bus stop in Ofra on Sunday night, the last night of Hanukkah, which seriously injured a young pregnant woman whose baby, delivered by emergency C-section at just 30 weeks, is fighting for his life.