Airbnb Reverses Policy Banning Listings in Israeli Settlements in West Bank

anastasios pallis

Airbnb said Tuesday that it had reversed its decision to remove listings of properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In November, the company provoked an uproar in Israel and a flood of litigation when it said that it would eliminate about 200 listings in West Bank settlements that are “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Airbnb’s announcement on Tuesday came after it settled four lawsuits filed against it in the United States and Israel. According to a statement from the company, Airbnb will allow listings throughout the entire West Bank but will donate all profits from its business in the region.

An Airbnb spokesman said the chosen humanitarian nonprofit organizations would not be related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The company’s decision about doing business in the region came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would start to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank if given a fourth consecutive term, an apparent attempt to rally right-wing voters before elections. Early Wednesday, Mr. Netanuahu appeared poised to beat his chief rival, Benny Gantz, a centrist and a political newcomer.

Following the onslaught of anti-discrimination litigation, Airbnb had not yet followed through on removing the listings of properties in settlements. While the company intended to remove listings only in Israeli settlements, its new policy that it will not profit from business there applies to the entire West Bank.

Most of the world considers the settlements, built on land Israel captured in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. Even the Israeli authorities have deemed illegal some of the unauthorized outposts where Airbnb accommodations can be found.

The removal of the listings of properties in Israeli settlements was long advocated by Palestinian officials, anti-settlement advocates and human rights groups. Israeli politicians condemned the policy, calling it discriminatory.

Israel’s official position is that the territory in the West Bank is disputed, not occupied. The fate of the settlements, it says, should be resolved in negotiations with the Palestinians.

In one of the lawsuits that Airbnb settled, 12 American Jewish families, who are prospective Airbnb hosts or guests in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, claimed that the policy discriminated against them on the basis of their religion.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and president of the pro-Israel Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, which organized the lawsuit, said in a statement on Tuesday that other international companies should take note that “boycotting Israel and discriminating against Jews are unlawful acts which will ultimately result in dire legal consequences, public condemnations and embarrassment.”

That lawsuit was filed in federal court in Delaware, where Airbnb is incorporated. The other three Airbnb legal settlements were related to litigation based in New York, California and Israel.

At the crux of the lawsuit in Delaware was the plaintiffs’ objection to Airbnb’s singling out the West Bank in putting the policy in place despite the existence of other disputed territories around the world, said Robert Tolchin, a New York-based lawyer for the plaintiffs.

In January, Airbnb expanded that policy to other regions with an announcement that it would also remove listings in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, disputed territories in the Caucasus. Airbnb said Tuesday that its West Bank policy would also be applied to that region, as well as other places where the company determined housing was “central to ongoing tensions.”

In its statement on Tuesday, Airbnb disavowed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as B.D.S., which Israeli politicians accused it of supporting after the announcement of the policy last year.

Human Rights Watch, the advocacy organization, had urged Airbnb to remove listings of properties in Israeli settlements. Shortly after the November announcement, the organization released a report analyzing the status of the land on which 139 Airbnb properties in the Israeli settlements were located. The report said that rental companies like Airbnb allowed the settlements to be more profitable and sustainable, which facilitates Israel’s “unlawful transfer of its citizens to the settlements.”

In a tweet on Tuesday, the organization’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, said that he was disappointed in Airbnb’s decision to reverse its policy and that doing business in the settlements made them “complicit in abuses.”

He wrote, “Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings does nothing to remedy ‘human suffering’ they’ve acknowledged causing.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

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