Furious Israeli ministers threatened recriminations against home rentals company Airbnb this week, after it said it would no longer list properties in Jewish settlements.
One minister called the move “discriminatory” and another said they would limit Airbnb’s operations in Israel, after the company said it had re-evaluated its policy on rentals in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In a statement on Monday, Airbnb said it was pulling approximately 200 settlement listings, saying: “We must consider the impact we have and act responsibly.”
It said it had “spent considerable time speaking to various experts” before applying a decision-making framework to consider, among other things, the safety of guests and “whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering”.
The decision was communicated just hours before the publication of a damning 65-page report by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) into businesses trading in the settlements, which features Airbnb.
The report – titled ‘Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land’ – said Airbnb was “facilitating” the rental of property on stolen Palestinian land “under conditions of inherent discrimination [in that] Israelis and foreigners may pay to stay on the property, but Palestinians may not”.
Airbnb’s decision was welcomed by British Jewish group Yachad as being “consistent with agreements Israel itself has signed with the European Union, which excludes settlements”.
Airbnb had said it thought long and hard about pulling out of the settlements, because it believed “people-to-people travel has considerable value,” but Yachad said: “Building settlements in the occupied territories is not bringing people together. It is blocking any chance of peace.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, charged with fighting boycotts, said Airbnb “will have to explain why they specifically, and uniquely, chose to implement this political and discriminatory decision in the case of citizens of the State of Israel”.
Tourism minister Yariv Levin ordered his office to restrict the company’s activity throughout the country and instructed the ministry to ramp up its tourism programmes in West Bank settlements.
Israel’s Deputy Diplomacy Minister Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US, tweeted that Airbnb’s policy “is the very definition of antisemitsm” and that “no-one should use its services”.
He said: “Airbnb blacklists Jewish apartments in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], not Palestinian apartments, not apartments in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, in Moroccan-occupied Sahara, not in Tibet or Crimea.”
The HRW report said: “The business activity that Airbnb and Booking.com conduct helps make West Bank settlements more profitable and therefore sustainable, thus facilitating Israel’s unlawful transfer of its citizens to the settlements.”
HRW director Arvind Ganesan said Airbnb’s move “an important recognition that such listings can’t square with its human rights responsibilities,” before urging other companies to follow suit. Booking.com has been approached for comment.
Airbnb’s decision comes after years of pressure. In 2016, up to 150,000 people joined Jewish Voice for Peace to sign an online petition calling on the company to take action.
It read: “Airbnb is directly helping Israeli settlers legitimise their occupation of stolen land, contributing to a key piece of the Israeli government’s decades-long policies of occupation, discrimination, and dispossession.”
Users have been angered because many settlement properties are listed as being in “Israel,” and pro-Palestinian groups have pushed the U.S-based company on discrimination grounds, noting that the homes are “off-limits” to Palestinian users.
Palestinian leaders said the company’s location references were “strikingly illegal” and that it was “profiting from occupation”.
Omar Barghouti, who co-founded the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, called for Airbnb to exclude settlement listings “as a significant first step towards complying with its human rights obligations under international law”.
Some settlement rooms for rent are advertised as having views of “spectacular Judean landscape” while others boast of the “tranquillity” of the area.
The company has previously said: “We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings,” adding that US law allows it to do business in the settlements.
In the UK, the Board of Deputies condemned the decision “to single out the Jewish state of Israel from all the territories in the world that are under dispute. I’m sure that those concerned about the decision will indicate their displeasure through their future choices of accommodation provider.”