News filtered through at approximately 1 p.m. EST that following talks, Airbnb had announced it was suspending the implementation of the new policy of boycotting West Bank settlements.
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) December 17, 2018
However, around an hour later, counter reports suggested that the company was doing no such thing and that the previous reports on not implementing the ban were untrue. “The reports issued earlier today are inaccurate,” the company said via a statement from its press secretary, Nick Papas. It was widely claimed on social media sites – Twitter principally among them – that Airbnb held secret talks with the Israeli government about the company’s decision – which was seemingly heavily swayed by pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Following these talks, Israel’s Tourism Ministry announced that Airbnb officials had told government officials that it would not be implementing its policy – a move the ministry welcomed as “a step in the right direction.” The Tourism Ministry’s statement was apparently released in response to a message from Yuval Lidor, a representative of Airbnb in Israel. This “mistake” was quickly walked back and Airbnb stressed that the press release from Papas was the company’s official policy.
According to The Times of Israel, “Airbnb expressed its unequivocal rejection of the BDS movement and communicated its commitment to develop its business in Israel, enabling more tourists from around the world to enjoy the wonders of the country and its people,” the official Airbnb statement from Papas said.
Airbnb’s original November 19 announcement regarding the removal of approximately 200 listings in Judea and Samaria, met with a fierce response. About a week after the initial decision, 18 Israeli-Americans filed a lawsuit against the company in a United States federal court. The lawsuit was backed by Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center and the plaintiffs are represented by New York attorney Robert Tolchin, Shurat HaDin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Delaware lawyer David Eagle.
“Airbnb’s new discriminatory policy has made it the poster child for the racist BDS movement,” said Darshan-Leitner. “These Jewish American property owners were shocked by Airbnb’s blacklisting of their homes and intend to legally fight this new hateful policy.”
A few days previous to that suit, a group of Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria filed a class-action lawsuit against Airbnb in Jerusalem District Court. The petitioners argued that removing or restricting the listings exclusively in their area constitutes offensive and blatant discrimination, and asked the court to forbid Airbnb from banning listings based on a property owner’s country of origin.
Interestingly, a mere two days after Airbnb’s November 19 initial announcement, they clarified that the delisting would only relate to Judea and Samaria – but to neither the Golan Heights nor East Jerusalem, both of which areas are similarly contested.
The coming year is set to be a hugely significant one for Airbnb as it weighs becoming a public company – possibly as soon soon as June 30, 2019, but not later than the end of 2020. The move to delist was highly controversial because it seemed to single out Jewish-owned properties in a disputed territory. Despite intimations that the company plans to de-list homes in other disputed territories, such as Western Sahara – there are only 24 homes for rent there and it has not yet done so.