Homeowners, Vacationers Take Aim at Airbnb Israel West Bank Policy

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Opponents of Airbnb’s ban on home rental listings in “occupied” areas of Israel’s West Bank accused the tech giant of “anti-Jewish” discrimination in a federal lawsuit Tuesday night.

Palestinian men work at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim, near Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, File)

“The anti-Jewish discriminatory policy adopted by Airbnb contravenes federal and state law and is repugnant to the core values and mores of the United States and the state of California,” the plaintiffs say in their 27-page complaint.

Lead plaintiffs Eve and Earl Harow, dual citizens of the United States and Israel, say the policy enacted by Airbnb in November blocks them from listing their property in the Gush Etzion region of Judea and Samaria, the Israeli government’s names for two areas encompassing the West Bank.

The lawsuit accuses Airbnb of bowing to pressure from nongovernmental organizations including Human Rights Watch, which offered “incitement and encouragement” for Airbnb to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, commonly known as BDS. Launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society groups, the BDS Movement aims to apply economic pressure on Israel “until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”

Airbnb did not respond to an emailed request for comment Wednesday, but the company said in a Nov. 18 statement that it “is not boycotting Israel” and does not support the BDS movement. The San Francisco-based tech giant said it was removing 200 listings in the West Bank due to the disputed nature of the territory, adding that its policy does not apply to more than 20,000 listings in Israel, including those in Jerusalem and Golan Heights.

But the Harows claim the policy is not about human rights or advocating for peace. They argue the true motive is unambiguous antipathy toward Israel and the Jewish people, and their lawsuit describes the Airbnb policy as “reminiscent of the Nazi-era boycotts against Jewish business and enterprises in Germany during the 1930s.”

Plans to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank spiked over the last two years after President Donald Trump reversed the Obama administration’s objections to most expansions. Israel planned to build 6,712 new settlement homes in 2017 and 5,618 new homes in 2018, according to data compiled by Peace Now, an Israeli peace advocacy group that tracks settlement data. The organization says more than 413,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, making up 13 percent of the West Bank’s population of 3.3 million.

Advocates of a two-state solution argue that a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine requires the Jewish state to recognize Palestine’s borders as they were in June 1967 before Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza during the Six Day War. That would require Israel to relinquish control of both territories.

But the plaintiffs and others who support Israeli settlement expansion argue the West Bank was historically part of Israel “as reflected in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, and an unbroken line of historical and archaeological sources spanning more than 3,000 years,” the Harows write in their complaint.

They claim Airbnb’s West Bank policy violates federal and state fair housing and civil rights laws by discriminating against the plaintiffs “based on their religion and national origin.” The couple also claims violations of California’s unfair competition law.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Los Angeles residents Fay and Neal Shapiro and Scottsdale, Arizona, resident Joel Taubman, who claim they were wrongly denied the accommodation of Airbnb rentals in “occupied” areas of the West Bank.

This is not the first lawsuit to accuse Airbnb of discrimination based on its West Bank policy. Another lawsuit, Sibler v. Airbnb, was filed in federal court in Delaware in November 2018, 10 days after Airbnb announced its new policy.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Airbnb that he would impose sanctions on the San Francisco-based company if it does not reverse its West Bank policy. Florida passed a law in 2016 that bars public agencies from doing business with companies that are “engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

An Airbnb spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times last week that the company has “unequivocally rejected” the BDS movement and that it remains “deeply committed” to thousands of Airbnb hosts in Israel and more than 45,000 hosts in Florida.

Attorney David Schultz of Los Angeles and the New York firm Zell & Associates International Advocates represent the plaintiffs.

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