Israel slams 'a miserable decision, a disgraceful surrender'

Vacation rental giant Airbnb bans listings in West Bank settlements

Some 200 homes over the Green Line will no longer be available under new policy; Israel fumes over ‘discrimination’

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

Vacation rental operator Airbnb on Monday announced it would no longer host listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, drawing anger from Israeli leaders.

The US-based Airbnb said in a statement posted on its website that after a reexamination of its policies, the company has “concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The company said the decision to remove the approximately 200 settlement listings came after “considerable time” was spent consulting experts on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

As a leader in the industry, Airbnb said it “must consider the impact we have and act responsibly,” adding that it had “struggled” over the move.

A map showing vacation rentals in West Bank settlements listed on Airbnb website on November 19, 2018. (screen capture)

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

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.

In recent years, Airbnb has faced criticism from Palestinians for hosting Israeli listings in the West Bank that failed to mention the property was located on land claimed by the Palestinians. Senior Palestinian officials and a number of NGOs have urged Airbnb to join the international movement boycotting settlement products or companies doing business in the West Bank.

An Airbnb listing for a home in Ma’aleh 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 Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement has claimed responsibility for pressuring some major companies to stop or alter operations in Israel or the West Bank, including carbonated drink maker SodaStream, French construction company Veolia, and international mobile phone giant Orange.

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

Airbnb’s announcement Monday drew immediate ire from the Israeli government 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 he had also instructed his ministry to implement a special program to encourage tourism and accommodation in West Bank settlements.

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

In contrast, the Peace Now settlement watchdog lauded Airbnb’s decision, saying the company was in line with the rest of the world in “distinguishing between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories.”

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

“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.”

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.

Airbnb acknowledged on it website that the decision would raise hackles.

“We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective,” the statement said. “This is a controversial issue.”

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