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November 21, 2018 4:32 pm

Airbnb Warned Over Potential Legal Ramifications of Delisting Israeli Settlements

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A woman talks on the phone at the Airbnb office headquarters in the SOMA district of San Francisco, California, Aug. 2, 2016. Photo: Reuters / Gabrielle Lurie.

A number of American Jewish and pro-Israel groups have reacted with concern to Airbnb’s decision to remove listings in West Bank settlements, and one is warning that the home-renting company could be running afoul of US law.

In a letter sent to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Wednesday, The Lawfare Project noted that the company’s move “carries a host of negative implications under US federal and state law prohibiting discriminatory commercial conduct, including boycotts, and may expose Airbnb to damaging legal and financial liability under such laws.”

“On the federal side,” the letter — authored by The Lawfare Project’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research Benjamin Ryberg — pointed out, “Airbnb’s removal of Israeli listings may run afoul of such statutes as the Export Administration Act of 1979 and regulations promulgated thereunder, the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976, and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. On the state side, half of the US states have enacted legislation prohibiting state contracting with or investment in entities that participate in the economic boycott of Israel, and similar legislation is currently pending in a number of other states. States including New York and California also have long-existing legislation that outlaws discriminatory business conduct based on the religion, national origin, or citizenship of the target and enables entities to sue the perpetrator(s) of such discrimination.”

“With the enactment and vigorous enforcement of these laws, the United States has demonstrated its staunch commitment to harshly penalizing and eliminating commercial discrimination against allied nations and their business concerns,” the letter continued.

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Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also sent a letter to Chesky, in which he wrote that, with Airbnb’s decision, “the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and its supporters will be further emboldened and view it as a victory for their hateful campaign against Israel.”

“Also, as best as we can tell,” Greenblatt went on to say, “Airbnb has not de-listed rentals in any other disputed areas. Your website currently lists properties in Northern Cyprus, Tibet, the Western Saharan region, and other territories where people have been displaced. Yet only Israeli settlements are being singled out for de-listing by Airbnb, a decision which many see as a double standard set by your company. Make no mistake: double standards when it comes to Israel cause us great concern.”

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) Chairman Arthur Stark and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein urged Chesky to meet with US Jewish leaders to discuss the matter.

“Airbnb took a political decision that singles out Israelis and one ‘disputed’ territory,” they stated. “The West Bank involves complex issues that cannot be addressed with simplistic and, in this case, biased measures.”

“The BDS movement at its core is anti-Semitic as has been amply demonstrated,” Stark and Hoenlein added. “After recent events, especially following the attack of the synagogue in Pittsburgh, we will not, and cannot remain silent. When Jews here or anywhere are singled out, threatened, discriminated against, or put in jeopardy of any kind, we must, and will respond.”

“We know that Airbnb has in the past expressed opposition to discrimination and conduct that would support bigotry. We hope that this will be the case now. We ask Mr. Chesky to act promptly to rescind the decision and make clear that the company rejects BDS in all its manifestations,” they concluded.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) called for a boycott of Airbnb.

“This is double standard anti-Semitism pure and simple,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper — the SWC’s dean and associate dean — stated. “Nowhere else on the planet has Airbnb stopped making its service available in disputed territories, except Judea and Samaria.

“To be clear, no Israeli leader, left, right, or center, would ever return to the indefensible ‘Auschwitz borders,’ a term coined by the founder of Israel’s peace movement, the late Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban,” they continued. “We take note that Airbnb has no problem doing business in the territory of the Palestinian Authority, which names schools and shopping centers in honor of mass murderers who have killed innocent civilians and have a ‘pay to slay’ policy when it comes to killing Jews.”

“We don’t expect Airbnb to be geopolitical experts, but today’s draconian and unjust move, which only empowers extremists and terrorists, merits only one response — taking our community’s business elsewhere,” Hier and Cooper concluded.

The ZOA implored “all decent people to stop using Airbnb’s services until Airbnb ends this Jew-hating, anti-Semitic policy.”

“Let’s stand up for our brothers and sisters in the Jewish homeland as long as Airbnb continues to hold up a virtual ‘no Jews allowed’ sign!” the ZOA declared.

B’nai B’rith International tweeted, “Airbnb’s removal of its rental listings in the West Bank is a blatantly discriminatory decision that represents yet another instance of the double standard applied by the rest of the world to Israel. Airbnb should reverse this unfair policy immediately.”

World Jewish Congress-Israel Chair Gad Ariely said, “World Jewish Congress-Israel is troubled by the decision of Airbnb to boycott properties situated in Jewish communities in Israel. Airbnb’s cooperation with the BDS movement plays into the hands of those with a sinister agenda.”

“It is especially unconscionable given the fact that Airbnb lists properties in other disputed territories, and even countries in which human rights are regularly trampled upon,” he added.

The StandWithUs education group authored a petition calling on Airbnb to reverse its “discriminatory decision.”

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