Airbnb sued for discrimination over plans to delist West Bank settlement homes

Suit filed in San Francisco claims vacation rental giant is prejudiced against Jews because policy of removing properties in the area will not apply to Palestinians

Airbnb screenshot (via Twitter)
Airbnb screenshot (via Twitter)

Five American Jewish plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Airbnb alleging the company’s policy to ban listings from Jewish West Bank settlements discriminates against Jews.

Two of the five plaintiffs also are Israeli citizens and live in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

The lawsuit was filed last week in San Francisco, where Airbnb is based. It alleges that Airbnb’s policy is discriminatory, because it applies only to West Bank Jewish residents and leaves untouched listings from Arab or Palestinian towns there.

Airbnb announced in November that it would delist 200 properties and cease its operations in Israeli settlements “that are at the core of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Last week, the vacation rental company delisted properties in South Ossetia and Abhkazia, two contested autonomous areas in the republic of Georgia.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. Today, more than 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel sees the territory as disputed and says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Inbal Zeev walks, on January 17, 2016, by her guest house advertised on Airbnb in the Nofei Prat settlement in the West Bank. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

A visit to the Airbnb website shows that rentals in Jewish settlements remain posted. The company said last week in a statement that it is “working with experts to develop and validate the means to implement our policy.”

“Airbnb is eyeing the Israeli market to increase its offerings in the Middle East. It is inconceivable that Airbnb would at the same time alter its longstanding policy against complying with the anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement by delisting Jewish/Israeli accommodations in Judea and Samaria, while continuing to permit Arab homeowners located literally across the road to participate in the Airbnb program,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Zell said in a statement, according to the San Francisco CBS affiliate.

Airbnb’s decision drew accusations of anti-Semitism from Israeli and US politicians as well as by US Jewish groups, who said the company was unfairly singling out Israel.

In late November, a group of 18 American Jewish plaintiffs, most of whom own property in Israel, filed a civil rights lawsuit in US District Court in Delaware alleging that the online hospitality firm enacted a new policy discriminating against them based on their religion.

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