J Street Condemns Ongoing Efforts to Smear and Penalize Airbnb

November 29, 2018

J Street is deeply concerned by the growing chorus of irresponsible smears directed at Airbnb in the wake of the company’s decision to no longer list properties located in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

These attacks, falsely charging Airbnb with “anti-semitism,” “discrimination,” and “boycotting Israel,” do not promote the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people, but rather serve to aid the interests of the settlement movement. By charging Airbnb with anti-Semitism, the Israeli government and some of its supporters are in fact grossly abusing that term — and diminishing the very real threat of rising, deadly anti-Semitism in this country and around the world.

In letters sent this week to the governors of five American states, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan outrageously accused Airbnb of “adopting the anti-Semitic practices and narrative of the boycott movement” and called on the governors to consider punitive legal or legislative action against the company in their states.

Whether or not one agrees with Airbnb’s decision, it should be clear that it is rooted in concern over the ongoing occupation, settlements and the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank — and not about opposition to Israel, Israelis or the Jewish people. In the letter, Erdan refused to recognize that, far from “boycotting Israel,” Airbnb continues to list thousands of properties throughout the country. By describing this move as a “boycott of Israel,” he continues the Israeli government’s effort to erase the distinction between the State of Israel and the occupied territory it controls.

Erdan failed to acknowledge that West Bank settlements in occupied territory have long been illegal under international law, or that their Israeli residents live next to Palestinians who live under military occupation, with an entirely different set of laws and rights. In fact, he did not use the words “occupation” or “settlements” at all. While accusing Airbnb of applying an anti-Semitic “double standard” to Israel, he did not mention that Airbnb does not currently list properties in Russian-occupied Crimea and is considering delisting properties in territories occupied by other countries elsewhere in the world.

We are alarmed by reports that some lawmakers, including Governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois and incoming governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, are considering punitive steps against Airbnb. We also oppose efforts by some pro-Israel advocacy groups to cast Airbnb’s decision as indicative of the need for Congress to pass two bills, the so-called “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” and the “Combating BDS Act.” These misguided bills would enable greatly expanded state and federal action to penalize companies and individuals for non-violent political action and speech — including the boycott of settlements. J Street opposes the Global BDS Movement. And we oppose these bills on the grounds that they treat Israel and the territories as one and the same, infringe on First Amendment rights and hurt, rather than help, efforts to counter the BDS movement.

Any US officials who act against Airbnb, or use its decision as the basis to advance problematic legislation, should know that they are not defending Israel or the Jewish people. They are defending the settlement movement and its mission to ensure a permanent one-state nightmare for Israel and the Palestinian people.

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