British Jewish leaders have condemned Amnesty International after it published a report which has urged online travel sites to ban listings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council issued a joint statement, saying the rights group “has a long record of double standards on Israel”, after its report was published this week.
Titled ‘Destination: Occupation’, it said rental sites Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are driving tourism to settlements that most of the world considers illegal.
Airbnb announced last November that it would remove West Bank settlement listings but has yet to implement its decision.
The company says it is working to identify the “precise boundaries” of areas subject to the policy.
Amnesty called on Airbnb to immediately implement its ban and to extend it to east Jerusalem, which Israel captured with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
Meanwhile, protesters set up a “barbed wire beach” to protest against travel companies who arrange holidays in Israeli settlements. The Amnesty International stunt lasted around 15 minutes and saw models on a mock beach surrounded by barbed wire and “No Palestinians allowed” signs outside the headquarters of TripAdvisor in Soho Square, central London.
On Twitter, Israeli cabinet minister Gilad Erdan called the Amnesty statement “an outrageous attempt to distort facts, deny Jewish heritage & delegitimize Israel”.
The Palestinians seek these lands for a future independent state.
This comes after Amnesty International UK refused to host a Jewish Leadership Council event in January 2018, on the grounds that the human rights group is “campaigning for a ban on Israeli settlement goods’. The planned discussion at Amnesty’s offices on the United Nations Human Rights Council’s relationship with Israel was cancelled, causing anger within the British Jewish community.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council issued a joint statement condemning the report. The two communal organisations said: “Amnesty International has a long record of double standards on Israel. We will not forget how Amnesty recently left Jews out of its work on racism and refused to allow the Jewish Leadership Council to host an event at its offices. No surprise then, that they now see Jewish access to Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall as a reason to criticise Israel.”
Paul Charney, Chairman of the Zionist Federation of the UK and Ireland said: “This report once again shows Amnesty International’s lack of neutrality when it comes to Israelis and Palestinians, by whitewashing any culpability the Palestinian leadership and perpetrators of terrorism have with regards to the conflict.”
He called on Amnesty “recognise the incitement, the children’s television programmes encouraging violence and terrorism, and the salaries to convicted terrorists under the Palestinian Authority’s “Pay to Slay” policy”, while accusing the rights group of placing the “blame squarely at the feet of Israel and the settlements” for the conflict.
Claiming they are “jumping on an anti-Israel bandwagon than actually helping the Palestinians”, he said Amnesty “lost their credibility as a humanitarian organisation the moment they decided to become a political body”.
The World Jewish Congress said it was disheartened by Amnesty’s report and called on it to shift its focus back to human rights.
“Amnesty International is a serious and respected human rights organisation, whose work to stop abuses around the world should never be underrated, but its singular focus on corporate entities doing business in Israeli settlements is gravely misguided,” said WJC chief executive Robert Singer.
“If Amnesty wishes to involve itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should centre its attention on the real human rights abuses ongoing in Palestinian territories, and not attack corporate businesses who strive to bridge divides and build peace through global tourism and interaction.”
Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen said: “We’re here to advise TripAdvisor that they need to check out of the illegal Israeli settlements.
“They’re selling holidays to people and where they are going is in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Many of the people who book these holidays have no idea this is happening.”
She added: “Holidays are supposed to be fun, not part of a wider system of human rights abuse.”
A TripAdvisor spokesman said: “TripAdvisor believes that travellers coming to our site or app should have access to all relevant information available about a destination, including businesses currently open in those locations.
“To this end, we aim to provide travellers with an apolitical, accurate and useful picture of all accommodations, restaurants and attractions that are currently open for business around the world.
“We understand that this issue is a sensitive matter with cultural and political implications. The listing of a property does not represent our endorsement of that establishment.
“We provide the listing as a platform for guests to share their genuine experiences with other travellers. As such, we do not remove listings of properties or businesses that remain active and open for business.”
In November, fellow travel company Airbnb announced it would withdraw some 200 listings for properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying they were “at the core of the disputes between Israelis and Palestinians”.
While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.
That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.
We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.
Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”