Online holiday rental giant Airbnb has reneged on its decision to delist properties situated on Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, saying instead it will donate the profits from these listings to charity.
In November, Airbnb announced that it would no longer allow users to list West Bank settlement properties, saying in a statement: “Many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business [in the occupied West Bank] because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced, [therefore] we [have] concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”
However, in the months following the announcement, several Jewish-Americans who were impacted by the decision have taken Airbnb to court in the US, claiming that the decision discriminated against them based on their religion.
As a result of these legal proceedings, Airbnb has now reneged on its original decision to delist settlement properties, instead allowing them to remain on its site. According to Haaretz, “the policy change came in a court settlement Monday between the vacation rental company and a dozen American Jewish plaintiffs who had sued the company, organized by Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center, a pro-Israel law organization”.
A copy of Monday’s court settlement states: “Airbnb takes no position on the Host-Plaintiffs’ claims, or others’ claims, to legal title to the properties on which the accommodations are located. All listings for accommodations located in the Affected Region [the occupied West Bank] will at all times be permitted on its platform, subject to applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”
In a statement following the court case, Airbnb said it had “settled all lawsuits that were brought by hosts and potential hosts and guests who objected to a policy the company recently announced concerning listings in disputed areas”. It went on: “We will continue to allow listings throughout all of the West Bank, but Airbnb will take no profits from this activity in the region,” adding that instead profits “will be donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.”
The statement also stressed that Airbnb was not a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: “Airbnb has always opposed the BDS movement. Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform.”
The move will be seen as a blow for BDS, which had previously hailed Airbnb’s decision to delist settlement properties. The movement’s position has also been supported by a number of human rights organisations, including Amnesty International which in January called for Airbnb – as well as similar platforms such as Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor – to boycott of Israeli West Bank tourism industry.
Shurat HaDin has a long history of fighting court cases on Israel’s behalf. In February, Shurat HaDin intervened to halt International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations into the Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara in 2010. The group filed an official legal submission to the ICC as part of smear campaign presenting the ship’s passengers as “radical activists” with violent intent, an interpretation vehemently denied by activists who were on board the flotilla at the time.
Other organisations have used similar tactics to protect Israel’s agenda in court, for example ACOM, or Acción y Comunicación sobre Oriente Medio (Action and Communication on the Middle East). ACOM has fought a number of legal battles across Spain in order to overturn pro-BDS decisions by some of the country’s biggest municipalities, and has vowed to pursue similar cases in the future.