Airbnb faces legal action in U.S. over West Bank settlement boycott

One claimant, represented by attorney David Abrams, sought damages of at least $75,000 and asked the Abrogation Association to bar Airbnb from operating in New York state.

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November 28, 2018 22:29
3 minute read.
Airbnb apartment (Illustrative)

Airbnb apartment (Illustrative). (photo credit: PIXABAY)

 
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Airbnb is facing at least three legal cases in the United States over its decision earlier this month to drop settlement listings in the West Bank.

On Monday, an Israeli company Bibliotechnical Blue & White Ltd. located in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank filed a complaint against Airbnb for discrimination with the American Arbitration Association in New York.

The claimant, represented by attorney David Abrams, sought damages of at least $75,000 and asked the Abrogation Association to bar Airbnb from operating in New York state.

Abrams explained that his client turned to arbitration after unsuccessfully trying to use the global vacation rental website.

“Respondent has violated the New York City and New York State human rights laws by discriminating on the basis of religion, national origin and/or citizenship and also by engaging in a discriminatory boycott,” Abrams wrote.

He added that Airbnb, which is based in California, had violated that state’s Unruh Civil Rights.

On Monday, the pro-Israel NGO HonestReporting filed a complaint with the US Office of Antiboycott Compliance (OCA) against Airbnb.

It claimed that Airbnb Inc.’s decision to boycott West Bank settlements was in violation of the Export Administration Act (EAA) the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act (TRA).

“We respectfully request that you take formal action to enforce relevant US laws, which action may include (without limitation) a letter of warning to Airbnb, Inc., as well as civil, criminal or tax penalties, as appropriate,” HonestReporting Executive Director Daniel Pomerantz said.

In a release to the media he explained that the US Constitution and numerous congressional acts prohibit American individuals and corporations from participating in boycotts against foreign countries.

He warned that if Airbnb persisted in its actions against settlements – which targeted Jews but not Muslim residents of the West Bank – it could risk its ability to continue doing business in the US.

Separately, he noted that in addition to offering vacation rentals, Airbnb could only be considered a media company.

It has 15 million followers on Facebook, 670,000 on Twitter, and 590,000 on its own community forum, Pomerantz said.
“More people visit Airbnb’s website every day than watch CNN, MSNBC or BBC’s Prime,” he added.


In a third case, 12 Israeli-Americans from Delaware sued the company on Wednesday, citing religious discrimination.

Last week, a class-action suit was filed against the company in Israel.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan asked four states in the US to take action against Airbnb for its decision to remove West Bank settlement listings from its global website advertising vacation rental properties.

In a letter to outgoing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, he wrote, “Airbnb’s announced policy is especially disturbing when one understands that it is a policy directed only toward Israel.”

“Such a policy has not been applied by the company to any other country or region involved in a national dispute or conflict. This constitutes (one hopes unintentionally) the modern form of an antisemitic price, which applies a double standard to Israel in a way that is not expected or demanded of any other country,” Rauner wrote.

“Following our meeting and your leadership in denouncing the boycott movement, I ask that you consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to commercial dealings between Airbnb, the State of Illinois and its employees,” Erdan wrote.

He wrote a similar letter to three other states with large Jewish populations, including New York, California and Florida.
Florida’s Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has already spoken out against Airbnb.

According to a press release on his office’s website, DeSantis “criticized Airbnb for taking “steps against Israel” with recent business decisions that have been hailed as a victory for the antisemitic “Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS)” movement. The Governor-elect warned the company that if this continues, Florida will look to take steps against them.”

According to the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation KAN, Rauner has called on the Illinois Investment Policy Board to use the state’s anti-BDS legislation against the company.

Last week the Municipality of Beverly Hills passed a resolution condemning the Airbnb decision.

On Wednesday in an unusual show of solidarity with Judea and Samaria, a high level delegation of politicians, businessmen and religious leaders from Brazil visited the settlement of Ofra in the Binyamin Region of the West Bank.

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