Don’t Embolden Anti-Semites By Giving Airbnb A Pass
Airbnb recently jumped into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, announcing a decision to forbid homeowners in the “Israeli occupied” West Bank from listing their properties on the popular rental platform and remove all current listings. Members fortunate enough to live in an area which Airbnb deems to be sufficiently unoccupied use the platform to arrange or offer lodging. In a press release titled “Listings in Disputed Regions,” the company reported that the decision to remove the listings came after “considerable time” was spent consulting experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about how they should “treat listings in occupied territories.” Airbnb (which operates in 191 countries) said that as an industry leader, we “must consider the impact we have and act responsibly.”
Let’s talk anti-Semitism. For assessing this decision, we will overlook that one can still enjoy Airbnb’s platform in the West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilya — a city just a few hundred meters away from some of the delisted “occupied territories,” and a territory in which a Palestinian Authority court recently sentenced two Palestinians to 15 years of hard labor “for the crime of leaking (read: selling) land to the enemy (read: Israeli Jews).” This should be considered a lenient ruling as the punishment under Palestinian law for trying to sell or selling land to Israeli Jews can include execution. We will also overlook the fact that one can continue to surf Airbnb’s listings for a rental on the Gaza Strip. A territory governed by Hamas, who has a charter demanding the destruction of every Jew on earth. A territory which indiscriminately fires missiles as fast as they can accumulate them at Jewish civilians to cheers of the populace.
We will overlook both of these because the decision-makers at Airbnb never claimed an industry leader must act responsibly in a territory governed by oppressive laws or a group identified as terrorists by numerous countries and international organizations. It is disputed territories which an industry leader has an innate responsibility to police.
In assessing if Airbnb’s decision is anti-Semitic, it is important to note that among the listings available as of this writing on Airbnb are a “modern apartment studio” in the city-center of Sevastopol, Ukraine (annexed by Russia) and a “Cozy Studio” in Tibet, China (formerly known simply as Tibet). Additional disputed territories with listings on Airbnb include Western Sahara (brutally occupied by Morocco) and Northern Cyprus (which Turkey invaded before expelling nearly all the ethnic Greeks and seizing their homes). Indeed, the West Bank is virtually the only disputed territory Airbnb has taken action in.
This double-standard is key because the widely respected International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (boasting 31 member countries including superpowers such as the United States and the United Kingdom) weighs in on exactly this tactic in defining anti-Semitism. Their definition includes singling out Israel for special attack, or in other words applying a double-standard.
Certainly, there is adequate room to argue that Airbnb’s action is not, in fact, anti-Semitic. There are those who fear — including some within the United Kingdom’s Labour Party — that the “double-standard” aspect of the definition limits free speech and makes it too difficult to criticize Israel. Moreover, two days after the West Bank decision was made public, amidst backlash, Airbnb reportedly told some media outlets that it will look into whether it should drop listings within Western Sahara.
Perhaps strongest in defending Airbnb’s decision is that they were likely bullied into it by the influential Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization no stranger to accusations of anti-Israel bias. Airbnb felt that it was the best business decision to appease HRW and similar advocacy groups, though at the same time risk a loss in business from Israel and Jewish defenders. A day after the announcement, HRW published a preplanned scathing report detailing the company’s operations in Israeli settlements.
Whether anti-Semitic, anti-Israel or a product of caving into pressure, Airbnb’s decision was a boon to anti-Semites. Does anybody doubt, for example, that notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan considered the announcement anything but a major victory? For those unfamiliar, Farrakhan (who scarily has a strong following and has met with and been mainstreamed by some prominent political figures) is known for hit lines such as “Hitler was a very great man” and “the satanic Jews control everything and mostly everybody” and “the powerful Jews are my enemy.” Of course, he uncovered that “there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key rooms in the 9/11 attacks.” He did recently vigorously defend his image, clarifying that they “call me an antisemite. Stop it. I’m anti-termite.”
Similarly worried about Airbnb empowering anti-Semites, Anti-Defamation League CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, told the company in a letter, “With this decision, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and its supporters will be further emboldened and view it as a victory for their hateful campaign against Israel … Many of the founding goals of the BDS movement, including denying the Jewish people the universal right of self-determination — along with many of the strategies employed in BDS campaigns — are anti-Semitic. Many individuals involved in the starting and running of BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state. And, all too often, BDS advocates employ anti-Semitic rhetoric and narratives to isolate and demonize Israel.”
Seemingly emboldened and empowered, in its report “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements,” HRW called on similar platform Booking.com to follow Airbnb’s “positive step.” Booking.com responded in essence that they will not be bullied, at least not at this time. Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wasted no time seizing upon this victory to lay the roadmap for Airbnb’s “next step.” He said in a statement that Airbnb made an “initial positive step” in removing settlement listings from its website, but it should have also declared that the settlements are “illegal and constitute war crimes.”
As Jews, we cannot count on anybody but ourselves to fiercely push back at anybody or any organization which mainstreams or abets anti-Semitism. If we see a politician smiling alongside Farrakhan, we should denounce them as the filth they are and ensure they never come near our vote. If while walking down the street we hear hate being spoken at us, it emboldens that anti-Semite and any anti-Semite listening if we do not loudly and proudly call out the racist as a racist.
Whether one concludes Airbnb was anti-Semitic, discriminatory towards Israel or making a tough business decision, we cannot — we must not — give them a pass. Let’s hit Airbnb where they care: their income statement. Do not book through Airbnb and implore anybody who will listen not to. The world is watching. They must be sent a clear and unambiguous message — the Jewish people will not allow anti-Semites to be emboldened.
Etan Neiman (Syms ‘17) is a former Commentator Business Editor and is currently working as a Senior Accounting Associate at Brand Sonnenschine as well as the Director of Operations at Refuat Hanefesh.
Photo Caption: Airbnb operates in 191 countries