Israel Lashes Out at Airbnb After the Company Pulls Listings of West Bank Home Rentals
Airbnb will remove all listings by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, an Israeli-controlled disputed territory. In response, Israel said it would act to restrict Airbnb in the country, and encouraged affected Airbnb hosts to file lawsuits under Israel’s anti-boycott law. Airbnb’s action affects about 200 hosts.
Airbnb announced on Nov. 19 that it would change its policy regarding home rentals in occupied territories, singling out the West Bank. Previously, it had relied on the principle that such rentals were legal. In its decision, it said it developed a framework that examines safety risks for hosts and guests, whether listings contribute to “existing human suffering,” and if the listings themselves send a political message by their simple existence. Airbnb didn’t reply to a request for comment from Fortune.
Airbnb’s actions came a day before the planned release of a report from the Human Rights Watch documenting what the organization describes as “human rights harms of #Airbnb business in settlements,” the organization said on Twitter. Human Rights Watch has previously decried Israel’s building or allowing settlements in the West Bank, which the group labels “illegal.”
Israelis, the country’s advocates, and the government noted in response to the announcement that Airbnb continues to offer listings in a number of other locales that remain in dispute or controlled by dictators. Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, pointed out Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Morrocan-occupied Sahara, Tibet, and the Crimea as examples.
Israel maintains control of key pieces of territory seized in 1967 from adjoining Arab nations, including the West Bank, and its occupation has remained in dispute ever since. The country defends its actions as strategic and necessary. However, the settlements are a particular flashpoint. The United Nations Security Council voted 14-0 in December 2016, with the U.S. abstaining, to reaffirm previous statements that settlements in these territories are “a flagrant violation under international law,” a major obstacle to a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority, and have “no legal validity.”
Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said he will work with U.S. officials to determine if Airbnb has violated laws in some U.S. states that prohibit boycotts targeting Israel, according to Haaretz. About 25 states have enacted anti-boycott laws. Israel’s press office didn’t respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.
However, it’s unclear whether Airbnb’s actions, which only affect one portion of territory that Israel claims and doesn’t apply to the country’s U.N. accepted borders, would constitute a form of boycott under Israeli or U.S. state law. In similar previous cases, boycotts have constituted companies, performing artists, or others refusing to engage in business anywhere in Israel.
The U.S. Congress has attempted this year to produce a federal anti-boycott law to protect Israel that would impose penalties on businesses that heeded calls from organizations outside the U.S. to join boycotts. The ACLU has said the proposal is unconstitutional.
This law would target in particular the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, a coordinated strategy designed to apply pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, among other territorial and alleged human-rights issues.