Israel may look to punish Airbnb with special tax after settlement ban

Treasury urged to impose high levy on US vacation rental behemoth; minister says Israel will approach US government for help with punitive measures in states with anti-BDS laws

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

An Airbnb listing in the settlement of Kfar Adumim, accessed on January 12, 2016. (Screen capture: AirBnB)
An Airbnb listing in the settlement of Kfar Adumim, accessed on January 12, 2016. (Screen capture: AirBnB)

An Israeli minister said a special tax against Airbnb could be levied, as the country continued to seethe after the vacation rental giant announced that it would be dropping all of its listings located in Israeli settlements.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin 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.

Airbnb’s statement Monday noted that 200 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.

Levin urged Airbnb to walk back the “discriminatory” decision, saying that he had already instructed his office to draw up measures designed “to limit the company’s activity across the country.”

The minister added that he had also instructed his ministry to implement a special program to encourage tourism and accommodation in West Bank settlements.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, right, with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin as they arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office is charged with combating BDS 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 goods.

“On this manner, there is no differentiation between this part or that part of the State of Israel,” Erdan said, arguing that boycotts of Israeli industry in the West Bank — which Israel has yet to annex — are discriminatory.

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

It was not immediately clear whether Israeli homes in the annexed East Jerusalem will also be dropped from its listings. Monday’s decision did not seem to include the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

An Airbnb spokesperson said the decision will go into effect “in the coming days.”

However the spokesman did not respond to repeated attempts by The Times of Israel to clarify whether listings in other disputed territories around the world would also be dropped along with those in Israeli settlements.

Also Tuesday, HRW urged to follow the example of Airbnb and withdraw listings for rentals located in Israeli homes beyond the Green Line.

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