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Airbnb accused of anti-Semitism for delisting West Bank properties

Guests play in the pool of Villa Herodian, a home in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa that was formerly listed on Airbnb. Photo by Noam Feiner, courtesy of Lewis Weinger 

JERUSALEM (RNS) – A popular meme on social media here shows an illustration of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. “Why did Mary and Joseph stay in a stable?” asks one version. “Because Airbnb blocked all listings for Jews in Judea,” the Hebrew term for the West Bank.

The meme plays on last week’s announcement by Airbnb, the online lodging app, that it had pulled all 200 listings from “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank,” which it said is “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Another in the series of biblical riffs on Airbnb’s decision shows the Jewish patriarch Abraham, who in the Book of Genesis entertains three messengers from God in his tent, turning away guests.

A meme circulating on social media about Airbnb and the West Bank. Screenshot

Activists in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement have long urged Airbnb and other companies to stop doing business in Israel until it relinquishes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which it captured during the 1967 Middle East war.

Airbnb’s decision to comply has generated a firestorm of controversy and allegations of anti-Semitism against the company.

Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law, said Airbnb’s new policy is anti-Semitic and may violate discrimination laws.

“They say they’ve adopted a policy related to ‘disputed territories,’ but it only applies to Israel, the Jewish homeland,” Kontorovich said. “Even in northern Cyprus, where all the Greek Christians were thrown out by Turkey in the 1970s and which Turkey continues to occupy, Airbnb includes tons of listings.”

The boycott does not pertain to listings in mostly Palestinian East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, Airbnb’s statement said, even though the international community also considers them occupied territories.

Singling out Jewish territory smacks of anti-Semitism, Kontorovich said, and reinforces the myth that Palestinians but not Jews are indigenous to the region.

“The word ‘Jewish’ comes from the word Judea. It doesn’t get any more Jewish homeland than that,” Kontorovich said.

Josh Hasten, spokesman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, a settlement bloc, said the boycott “is targeting a certain group of people based on their religion and their geographical location, which has been the heartland of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

Palestinians and their supporters insist that the ban has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with justice.

Palestinians have limited self-rule in the West Bank, but Israel continues to control parts of the territory and severely limits who can enter and leave via military checkpoints and a security barrier that was built to prevent terrorists from entering Israel.

“One can disagree on the tactic of boycotting of settlements. But calling Airbnb’s decision anti-Semitic is a complete dilution of our political discourse, and conflates Israel with the occupation,” Frima Bubis wrote in an op-ed in 972 magazine.

“Furthermore, there are many Israeli and non-Israeli Jews who not only support the company’s decision, they work on a daily basis with their non-Jewish partners to hold up a mirror to Israeli society in order to end the occupation,” wrote Bubis.

In Bethlehem, Elias Deis, a Palestinian who manages the tourism program of a Palestinian Christian activist organization, said he supports Airbnb’s decision and the BDS campaign “because only international pressure on Israel will end the occupation and give Palestinians their full rights.”

Jewish settlements, he said, “are the main obstacle to peace. Those who support settlements are leading us to a dead end, where Palestinians and Israelis won’t be able to find a peaceful solution.”

But for homeowners whose businesses are tied to their Holy Land locations, the Airbnb boycott brings uncertainty.

The backyard of Villa Herodian, a home in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa that was formerly listed on Airbnb. Photo courtesy of Lewis Weinger

Four months ago, Lewis Weinger and his wife, Hindy, decided to offer their home in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa on Airbnb. The property, called Villa Herodian, overlooks the Judean hills and Herodian, the winter palace built by King Herod about 2,000 years ago. With its stunning desert views and a swimming pool, Villa Herodian is already a sought-after venue for special events.

As soon as the couple listed the property on Airbnb, the international rental portal, prospective renters began to make inquiries. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest, especially for next summer. Now that may not happen and I think it will hurt our business,” said Lewis Weinger.

But for Weinger, the decision affects more than business. From biblical times through the Holocaust, he said, Jews have been exiled from their homes.

Then as now, “it is anti-Semitic to single out Jews,” he maintained.

He has not yet decided whether to join a lawsuit filed against Airbnb by the Jewish owner of another delisted property.

“Airbnb may reverse its decision,” Weinger said hopefully. “But who knows?”

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Michele Chabin

10 Comments

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  • Airbnb made a business decision; which they have every right to do. Conversely, a local Israeli entrepreneur can replicate an online booking system and make some cash.
    I am not a fan of businesses being political; but if they choose to be, then consumers are free to walk.

  • It is not anti-Semitic to not agree with Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. Someone can still be in favor of the existence of Israel, of a homeland for Jewish people, and disagree with how the government of Israel handles respecting the rights of non-Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religions within the recognized Jewish state. One can favor the existence of the Jewish state recognized by the United Nations and not agree with the building of settlements in other areas of the region.

    Do the Palestinians have any rights?

  • “Do the Palestinians have any rights?”

    Depends on what their leaders choose to give them at this point. As far as I can tell neither Palestinian controlled territory is run on democratic lines. Gaza is a theocracy, West Bank is a kleptocracy.

  • Airnb applies its “disputed territories” policy to only ONE disputed territory in the world, Israel, but continues to happily do business in other disputed territories. This is a case of virtue signaling to the younger left-leaning BDS set which forms an important part of their base. Their hypocrisy in this matter is patent – as is their antisemitism.

  • But that does not address the very real problem of the building of settlements in what is not recognized Israeli territory, but a conquered territory. And, a conquered territory of people who do not agree with the Jewish religion and have a history, culture, faith of their own. Do they count for nothing?

    It is not antisemitic to disagree with an Israeli policy. It is not about the religion or ethnicity of Jewish people. If any opposition to anything Israel, the nation, does or proposes is automatically categorized as anti-semitic, then Israel can do anything it wants and claim opposition to anything is “antisemitic.” This issue is about politics and the competing rights of Palestinian people.

    Perhaps the problem is not that Airnb has dropped inclusion of only specific areas of dispute but that they – and other businesses – have not dropped doing business in the other disputed areas.

  • Umm… who in the West Bank is being a kleptocrat ???????

    We aren’t getting closer to finding a solution to the Palestinian/Israeli problem by ignoring what Israel is doing in taking land and dividing up the territory. I may not agree with the forms of government the people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip seem to want. What matters is peace for both Israel and the “other” people who have their own culture, language, history, religion.

  • The Jewish homeland coulda, shoulda been the United States of America. It actually is for about 40% of the world’s Jewish people, and that might as well have been 50%, 60%, 70%, 80% or 90%. The ongoing “forever” struggle about occupying lands captured in wars is a thing which really should have been skipped altogether. Oh, well.

  • Yes, the problem is that they have not dropped doing business in other disputed/militarily occupied areas (such as northern Cyprus, mentioned in the article. Do the Cypriots count for nothing?).

    In doing so, they are certainly hypocrites, while at the same time preening over their moral superiority for their policy concerning disputed lands.

    But why do they single out Israel as the sole target of their self righteous censure, ignoring all other cases? Some would find antisemitism a plausible explanation. Of course, I suppose an astonishing degree of hypocrisy would do the trick as well. In either case, they deserve to be called out on it.

  • Abbas is a kleptocrat. His own people have long considered him one.

    The Gaza Strip is not occupied. I agree that the settlements must go. But I see no need to divide Jerusalem. Nor are 1967 borders even remotely demographically viable for either side anymore.

    I see a peaceful solution is likely at least with the West Bank. But not with a Israel’s current right wing government. We aren’t getting closer to peace because nobody in control at the moment is motivated towards it. But moments change and I remain optimistic

  • Or maybe other businesses who think they have no responsibility for behaving morally are the ones to be called out. Perhaps the problem is a lack of moral awareness and courage on the part of other businesses.

    Again, and more important, this is not anti-semitism. It is a protest against a particular action of the Israeli state and a defense of the rights of other people of Palestine to also have a place to call home – a government that represents them, their culture, their values, and where their religion is respected.

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