Airbnb faces civil rights suit in U.S. over West Bank settlement boycott

Four of the plaintiffs live in the West Bank settlement of Efrat and the fifth lives in Arizona.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, shows a map during an interview on home-renting company Airbnb's decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements, in Ramallah (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, shows a map during an interview on home-renting company Airbnb's decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements, in Ramallah
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Five US citizens filed a civil rights lawsuit in California this week against Airbnb, claiming its decision to delist rental properties in settlements was discriminatory to Jews and akin to Nazi boycotts.
Two of the plaintiffs also hold Israeli citizenship and live in the Efrat settlement in West Bank, and three live in the US.
It is the second such lawsuit to be filed against the global company Airbnb in the United States since the company’s November decision not to list rental properties in West Bank settlements.
Late last year a demand for arbitration was filed against Airbnb in New York and a class action suit was also filed against the company in Israel.
The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys Mark Zell and David N. Schultz, allege that Airbnb’s refusal to list rentals in settlements solely targets “only those residential dwellings and accommodations in Judea and Samaria that are owned or managed by Jews.”
They called it a policy that was “reminiscent of the Nazi-era boycotts against Jewish business and enterprises in Germany during the 1930s.”
They added that the Airbnb policy “does not affect the listings of residential dwellings and accommodations in any Arab and Palestinian cities, villages and towns located in Judea and Samaria and does not affect any residential dwellings and accommodations that are owned or managed by Arabs, Palestinians or other non-Jews.”
This discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin is a violation of the US Civil Rights Act, the plaintiffs charged.
They added that Airbnb was also in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the California Unfair Competition Law.
Zell said his client had waited to file the lawsuit until it better understood the new policy, which Airbnb this month also applied to two disputed regions of Georgia: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
But Airbnb’s application of the policy in those two regions, differs from application to the West Bank, the plaintiffs argued.
“Airbnb’s decision to remove listings in South Ossetia and Abkhazia applies to these entire regions and impacts communities of Russians, Georgians, and Abkhazians located in these regions in the same way,” they said.
“By contrast, the Airbnb discriminatory policy only applies to areas that Airbnb classifies as ‘Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.’ Therefore, the discriminatory policy only impacts listings in communities of Jews and Israelis in Judea and Samaria. The policy has no impact on any communities of Arabs and/or Palestinians in the same region,” they said.
The classic example would be Hebron, Zell told The Jerusalem Post.
A Jewish accommodation on one Hebron street would not qualify for the Airbnb website, but an Arab accommodation would, he said. “The only basis on which Airbnb is distinguishing is the ethic and religion origin of the owner,” Zell explained.
In their suit, the plaintiffs also blamed the Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestment Movement as well as the international nongovernmental group Human Rights Watch for Airbnb’s decision to delist the settlement properties.
HRW “played a central role in causing Airbnb to take the steps that eventually led to the wholesale discrimination against Jews. Through an intensive international media and social media campaign, which included lobbying, meetings, letters, threats and reports, all aimed at intimidating Airbnb, HRW encouraged, aided and abetted Airbnb to adopt this discriminatory policy,” the plaintiffs said in their suit.


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