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J Street decries ‘smears’ of Airbnb for delisting settlement rentals

Dovish lobby group says Israeli officials accusing booking site of anti-Semitism are ‘grossly abusing that term,’ rejects calls for punitive moves

The home of Lewis Weinger, in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, who has been renting it out using Airbnb. (Meni Lavi)
The home of Lewis Weinger, in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, who has been renting it out using Airbnb. (Meni Lavi)

The left-wing lobbying organization J Street has denounced the “irresponsible smears” and calls for punitive action against booking website Airbnb for delisting rental properties in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“These attacks, falsely charging Airbnb with ‘anti-semitism,’ ‘discrimination,’ and ‘boycotting Israel,’ do not promote the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people, but rather serve to aid the interests of the settlement movement,” J street said in a statement Thursday.

The announcement in November by Airbnb that it was delisting rentals at West Bank settlements has been condemned by Israeli and American politicians, as well as by US Jewish groups, with accusations of anti-Semitism being leveled against the company for allegedly singling out Israel.

But J Street accused Israeli officials, who have said Airbnb’s decision is an example of anti-Semitism, of “grossly abusing that term,” adding that they were “diminishing the very real threat of rising, deadly anti-Semitism in this country and around the world.”

“Whether or not one agrees with Airbnb’s decision, it should be clear that it is rooted in concern over the ongoing occupation, settlements and the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank — and not about opposition to Israel, Israelis or the Jewish people,” the group said.

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)

J Street also condemned statements by US governors that they would consider punitive measures against Airbnb for delisting rentals in settlements and said it opposes a pair of Congressional bills opposing the boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement.

“J Street opposes the Global BDS Movement. And we oppose these bills on the grounds that they treat Israel and the territories as one and the same, infringe on First Amendment rights and hurt, rather than help, efforts to counter the BDS movement,” it said.

The statement came a day after a group of 18 US Jews sued Airbnb in a US Federal Court, accusing it of religious discrimination for delisting accommodations in Israeli settlements.

The plaintiffs, who said they owned or wished to rent the affected properties, filed the complaint in Delaware, where Airbnb is incorporated, alleging the decision violates US laws against housing discrimination.

The suit accused Airbnb of “redlining” Jewish-owned properties while letting Muslims and Christians rent their homes and said Airbnb was taking sides in the dispute over the West Bank.

“We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective,” Airbnb said in a statement.

A separate suit was filed in a Jerusalem court on November 22.

Israel has also looked to mobilize support in the US against the decision. On Tuesday, Israel’s minister in charge of combating boycott efforts against the Jewish state urged US states to take steps against Airbnb.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In a letter to the governors of Illinois, New York, Florida, Missouri, and California, where Airbnb is based, Gilad Erdan called the announcement an adoption of “the anti-Semitic practices and narrative of the boycott movement.”

He charged that the BDS movement “is not interested in peace or a better future for the Palestinians, but rather in demonizing and discriminating against Israel, the one true democracy, and America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

And he said the new company policy is “especially disturbing when one understands that it is a policy directed only toward Israel. Such a policy has not been applied by the company to any other country or region involved in a national dispute or conflict.

“This constitutes (one hopes unintentionally) the modern form of an anti-Semitic practice which applies a double standard to Israel in a way that is not expected or demanded of any other country.”

Erdan’s outreach is likely falling on receptive ears. Laws against state investment in companies that boycott Israel exist in 25 US states.

An Airbnb official told The Times of Israel on November 21 that the company was evaluating whether to drop its listings in the disputed territory of Western Sahara as well, brushing off Israeli complaints that it was only taking a stand in the Jewish state’s dispute with the Palestinians while ignoring similar disputes in places like Tibet, Northern Cyprus, and Western Sahara.

The Airbnb official clarified that the delisting of Israeli-owned rentals would only be applied to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and not homes in East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, which Israel officially considers part of the country’s sovereign territory.

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.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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