The announcement by vacation rental operator Airbnb last month that it would no longer host listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank has galvanized two US-born men into setting up an alternative service, called OlehStay, that welcomes “any listing, anywhere in Israel.”
The website, set up by Noam Beltran, a current student of Yeshiva University in New York, and Joseph Sokol, an immigrant to Israel, is an Israel-based home-renting site that went live Monday, having been created just 10 days after Airbnb announced its decision.
“Our website was created specifically in response to Airbnb’s decision,” said Sokol in an email interview with The Times of Israel. “We are on a mission to be the alternative Airbnb in Israel and eventually around the world.”
The US-based Airbnb said last month in a statement posted on its website that after a reexamination of its policies, the company has “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.”
The company said the decision to remove its approximately 200 settlement listings came after “considerable time” was spent consulting experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Airbnb’s decision drew anger from Israeli and US politicians as well as by US Jewish groups, with accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against the company for allegedly singling out Israel.
“Jews in these areas may rely on Airbnb for their income and as such this could be tremendously financially damaging,” said Sokol.
The outrage caused by what has been deemed Airbnb’s “singular bias” toward Jewish renters in the West Bank “has triggered an uproar of renters around the world,” Sokol said, who are “now looking for an alternative service.”
“We’re moving as fast as we possibly can and we are overwhelmed by the excitement around the development,” Sokol added.
The site already has a dozen properties on its list “with new ones added every few hours,” Sokol said. Among the listings are two in the Etzion Bloc, one of them a “rustic caravan,” as well as others in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Fifty people have signed up to either rent or host, Sokol said, “which in my experience is very impressive considering how long we’ve been live. We’ve only posted about the site on the Facebook group Secret Jerusalem.”
Anyone can rent, he said, but there is a trend of Jews listing and signing up. “We don’t know whether this trend will continue.”
Sokol, a self-taught techie, is also the CEO and founder of the exchange service website OlehPay, which he set up using his bar mitzva money, to make the transfer of money between the US and Israel less expensive.