Airbnb drops Israeli settlements from listings

20 Nov

Airbnb says it will take down hundreds of listings for properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.[Shadi Hatem APA images]

By Nora Barrows-Friedman , Electronic Intifada, 19 November 2018

In a major win for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, Airbnb, the popular vacation home rental website, announced on Monday it will remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

But the announcement does not appear to include Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, which under international law is part of the occupied West Bank conquered by Israel in 1967.

Though Airbnb explained that US law permits companies to engage in business with Israeli settlements, it acknowledged that its decision was prompted by the nearly three years of steady campaigning by human rights activists around the globe who have urged the company to drop listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The company said it has approximately 200 accommodation listings in “the occupied territories that are the subject of historical disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced,” Airbnb stated on Monday.

On Monday Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Authority official, called Airbnb’s move an “initial positive step,” but complained, according to The Guardian, that it did not include Jerusalem.

The campaign, which has used the hashtag #stolenhomes, has been supported by several groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, Sum of Us, CODEPINK and the US Palestinian Community Network.

More than 150,000 people have signed a petition at stolenhomes.org urging Airbnb to end its business in the settlements.

Members of the Stolen Homes coalition said that steady organizing and growing pressure on Airbnb led to the significant victory.

“There’s no delicate way to say this: for years, Airbnb has profited from rental suites built on top of the ruins of Palestinian lives and livelihoods,” said Angus Wong of the corporate watchdog group Sum of Us, adding that the decision took “way too long.”

“By listing these stolen homes for years, Airbnb directly helped Israeli settlers legitimize their occupation of stolen Palestinian land, contributing to the Israeli government’s decades-long policies of occupation, discrimination and dispossession,” Wong explained.

Activists will continue to monitor Airbnb “to make sure that no more illegal rental properties built on Palestinian land are listed on the site,” Wong said, and would urge the company to make amends to Palestinians by donating profits from the listings to Palestinian organizations “working to provide services to people amidst the Israeli occupation.”

Airbnb continues to carry listings for properties in Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by Israel since 1967. All Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal under international law.

Airbnb has also come under heavy fire by housing justice activists for its direct contribution to housing shortages and gentrification in some cities, with properties being taken out of long-term rental and placed into the more lucrative short-term vacation market.

And despite the company’s anti-discrimination policy, hosts of Airbnb rentals were also found to discriminate against rental seekers who had African American-sounding names, while identical guests with white-sounding names were more readily accepted.

The company could have been wary of further damaging its reputation after it was warned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights last year that it could be included in an as yet unpublished database of firms doing business with Israeli settlements.

But growing pressure by activists to ditch its Israeli settlement profits undoubtedly pushed the California-based company a long way from its initial stance on the issue.

In January 2016, after human rights organizations launched their campaign, Airbnb declined to comment but stated that it follows “laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings.”

In its Monday statement, Airbnb explained that it now “must consider the impact we have and act responsibly.”

Listing five points in a “decision-making framework,” Airbnb included an evaluation of “whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering” and a determination “whether the existence of listings in the occupied territory has a direct connection to the larger dispute in the region.”

“Principled decision”

Members of the Stolen Homes coalition urged the UN human rights commission to release the full list of companies operating in the settlements “so that we can encourage remaining complicit corporations to make the same principled decision.”

Around the world, human rights defenders praised the work of grassroots activists that led to Airbnb’s decision.

“We took to the streets, used social and traditional media, and disrupted Airbnb events – all to have our voices heard that Palestinians deserve to live with freedom, dignity and equality,” said Ariel Gold of CODEPINK.

Omar Shakir, the head of the Human Rights Watch office in Jerusalem, tweeted that Airbnb’s announcement came a day ahead of the release of a joint report on racist rental brokering in illegal Israeli settlements.

Shakir also called on Booking.com, another hotel and vacation rentals website, to follow Airbnb’s lead and drop its settlement listings:

Irish senator Frances Black applauded Airbnb’s move. Black’s landmark bill that would ban trade in goods from Israeli settlements was approved by the Irish senate in July, despite opposition from Ireland’s government.

Israeli tourism minister Yariv Levin decried Airbnb’s move as “a disgraceful and miserable decision and a disgraceful surrender by the company.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister who is in charge of efforts to smear and sabotage the global boycott movement, claimed that Airbnb’s decision “constitutes submission to the anti-Semitic BDS organizations.”

Urging Airbnb hosts in Israeli settlements to file lawsuits against the company in accordance with Israel’s anti-boycott law, Erdan also said that he will ask US officials to investigate whether Airbnb’s decision violates any anti-BDS measures that have been passed in 25 US states.

Civil rights groups say that such measures are inherently unconstitutional. Two anti-BDS laws have already been blocked from enforcement in Kansas and Arizona.

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