Israel laments 'surrender to anti-Semitic BDS organizations'

Palestinians welcome Airbnb settlement ban as Israel fumes

Top Palestinian official calls on other companies to follow suit, but settler leaders and government ministers say move amounts to support for BDS

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)
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)

Palestinian officials on Monday praised Airbnb’s decision to remove rental listings in West Bank settlements, after years of pressuring the company to ban Israeli homes beyond the Green Line from its website.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that the vacation rental operator made an “initial positive step” in removing settlement listings from its website, but added it should have also declared that the settlements are “illegal and constitute war crimes.”

“We reiterate our call upon the UN Human Rights Council to release the database of companies profiting from the Israeli colonial occupation,” he said in a statement.

Instead, the announcement by the vacation rental behemoth noted that it “struggled” with the decision and acknowledged it would be controversial.

Airbnb has faced years of criticism from Palestinians for hosting settlement listings that failed to mention the property was located on land claimed by the Palestinians.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks during at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Senior Palestinian officials and a number of NGOs have repeatedly called on Airbnb to join the international movement boycotting settlement products or companies doing business with Israeli entities in the West Bank.

Palestinians in 2016 threatened to take legal action against Airbnb over its West Bank listings, accusing the company of presenting homes in occupied territory as if they were in Israel.

Airbnb at the time said the US-based firm “respects the laws in force where it operates and investigates the concerns raised on the subject of some listings.”

Protester during interview with Ashton Kutcher at Airbnb Open in Los Angeles. November 19, 2016 (Screen capture: YouTube)

Walid Assaf, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Commission Against the Wall and Settlements, told The Times of Israel that the Ramallah government “believes Airbnb made the correct decision.”

The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law,” he said

Assaf, who also serves on the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said he believed the decision would help advance the two state solution, “which Israel would like to erase through settlement building.”

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.”

An Airbnb listing for a home in Ma’ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement-city outside Jerusalem, as it appeared on the Airbnb site on the evening of November 19, 2018 (Airbnb screenshot)

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

Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, said the group had lobbied Airbnb to drop the listings for years, and called on other companies to follow suit.

“Airbnb’s decision to end its listings in Israeli settlements is an important recognition that such listings can’t square with its human rights responsibilities,” he said in a statement.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now also lauded the decision, saying the company was in line with the rest of the world in “distinguishing between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories.”

“International companies are interested in doing business with the State of Israel, but are unwilling to accept the continued military control of millions of Palestinians,” the group said. “If the government really wants to eliminate BDS — then it will end the occupation.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The decision drew ire from Israeli officials, as well as settler leaders, who called on the company to reverse its new policy.

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

Levin said “this was a disgraceful and miserable decision, and a disgraceful surrender by the company,” the statement said.

Levin said he had also instructed his ministry to implement a special program to encourage tourism and accommodation in West Bank settlements.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office is charged with combating BDS campaigns, called the move a “surrender” to settlement boycott movement.

“This is a misguided decision that constitutes surrender to the anti-Semitic BDS organizations,” he said in a statement. “It’s based on political considerations rather than business considerations.”

In its calls for boycott, the BDS movement does not differentiate between Israel proper and the West Bank settlements — a distinction that Airbnb does make in its decision.

Illustrative: Moshe Gordon sits outside his guest house advertised on Airbnb international home-sharing site in Nofei Prat settlement at the West Bank, on January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov/File)

The Yesha Council, the main organization representing Israeli settlers, accused Airbnb of becoming “a political site.”

The decision “is the result of either anti-Semitism or capitulation to terrorism, or both,” the council said.

The mayor of the large settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem, said Airbnb’s decision was a capitulation to “extremists.”

“The decision does an injustice to Israelis living in [the West Bank], constitutes a surrender to extremists and is a mistake that distances peace,” Oded Revivi said in a statement.

Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor and pro-settlement advocate, said Airbnb’s new policy amounted to anti-Semitism and could violate US anti-BDS laws at the state level.

Airbnb screenshot (via Twitter)

In a statement, he noted that the company allowed listings in in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

“Airbnb’s approach of singling out Jews from all the disputes in the world will put it at odds with US state BDS laws, and principles of discrimination,” Kontorovich said.

A number of US states prohibit doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

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.

A spokesperson for company said the decision will go into effect “in the coming days.”

Jacob Magid, Adam Rasgon and AFP contributed to this report.

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