Airbnb says it will look into dropping listings in Western Sahara next

Vacation rental site dismisses claim it singled out Jewish state by removing listings in settlements, says it’s examining its policy on other disputed territories

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A home in the northern West Bank available for rent on Airbnb. (Samaria Tourism)
A home in the northern West Bank available for rent on Airbnb. (Samaria Tourism)

An Airbnb official told The Times of Israel Wednesday that the company is evaluating whether to drop its listings in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, two days after it announced that it would remove homes in Israeli settlements from its site.

“In the statement we issued on Monday, we noted that we have developed a framework for evaluating how we should treat listings in occupied territories around the world. Western Sahara is one example of a place where we will use this framework,” the official said.

Israeli officials, including Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, have lambasted the the vacation rental giant initial decision as “racist” and anti-Semitic,” arguing that it applied a different standard to the Jewish state than to other disputed territories around the world.

The Airbnb official clarified that the decision — which will go into effect in the coming days — will only be applied to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and not homes in East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

As of Wednesday, there were 24 Airbnb listings in Western Sahara.

View of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Hever, in the Har Hebron Regional Council on April 19, 2015.(Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Airbnb’s statement Monday noted that 200 Israeli listings in the West Bank would be removed, after the company had concluded “they are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The company said the decision to remove the listings came after “considerable time” was spent consulting experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Airbnb said that, as an industry leader, it “must consider the impact we have and act responsibly.”

The announcement came a day before Human Rights Watch was set to publish a report detailing the company’s operations in Israeli settlements.

Amid outcry from settler leaders as well as their allies in the government, Airbnb’s Global Head of Policy and Communications Chris Lehane issued a statement Tuesday saying, “Israel is a special place and our over 22,000 hosts are special people who have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to Israel. We understand that this is a hard and complicated issue and we appreciate everyone’s perspective.”

Section of sand wall dividing Western Sahara from Morocco (Screen capture: YouTube)

On Wednesday, Erdan called on Israelis to boycott Airbnb in light of the company’s decision, adding that the government was examining “numerous courses of action.”

The strategic affairs minister, whose office is charged with combating boycott campaigns, told Army Radio Tuesday that Israel would be reaching out to the US government in light of the fact that 25 of its states have laws in place that require the sanctioning of American companies that boycott Israel.

Liberal pro-Israel groups have objected to the failure of most such orders and laws to distinguish between boycotts of Israel within its 1967 borders, which they reject, and boycotts of settlement businesses and goods.

Also on Tuesday, Levin, the tourism minister, said his office had reached out to the Finance Ministry with a request to “impose a special and high tax” on Airbnb’s activities.

While the statement said that the tax would not be imposed on all vacation apartments or on the renters themselves, it did not elaborate which part of the company’s business would be targeted.

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