Is the Airbnb class-action lawsuit PR or a real case?

Airbnb serves 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities, but announced on November 19 that it would no longer list around 200 Jewish rentals in the West Bank on its website.

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November 28, 2018 05:40
2 minute read.
Is the Airbnb class-action lawsuit PR or a real case?

David Davidson, owner of Khan Eretz Ha'Mirdafim resort, walks through the camp, near Alon settlement, November 20, 2018. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

 
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Is the class-action lawsuit filed against Airbnb in Jerusalem District Court a public relations stunt, or a case that could have real leverage against the rental giant?

Airbnb serves 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities, but announced on November 19 that it would no longer list around 200 Jewish rentals in the West Bank on its website.

According to Kohelet Policy Forum Professor Eugene Kontorovich, Airbnb is trying to get itself removed from a blacklist that the UN Human Rights Council may soon make public, listing companies which do business in the West Bank.

Lawyer Aviel Flint, a Partner in Yossi Levy & Co law firm, together with Dr. Hagai Vinitzky, a member of the Justice Ministry’s arrangements committee for Judea and Samaria, filed a class-action case claiming that Airbnb’s boycott of West Bank Jewish listings is discrimination.

The basis of their law lies in one from 2000, which bans discrimination in “public services,” updates to the law in 2017 added a person’s geographic location too.

A senior legal expert, who preferred anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, has told The Jerusalem Post that the lawsuit meets the definition of public services, but may face an uphill battle proving it fits into the law’s discrimination provisions.

On one hand, it would fit into the “public services” category on the basis that the rentals are a form of tourism, and tourism in Israel is included within public services. However, the law’s relevant discrimination provisions are highly specific.

The expert said that the law is designed to prevent discrimination against the consumer, not against a business owner.

In other words, discrimination against a consumer from the West Bank would be prohibited.


However, here the consumer would be a foreigner and the West Bank resident would be a business owner – likely not covered by the law.

In contrast, a separate law, the Anti-Boycott Law, is designed to defend the business interests of Jewish West bank businesses. But the expert said that the Anti-Boycott Law is only against persons or organizations who call for a boycott, and not against the action of boycotting itself.

In other words, while West bank Jewish residents are getting hit here economically, there may be no specific provision in laws which make Airbnb liable under a class-action lawsuit.

If the plaintiffs are able to convince the court that the discrimination provisions apply also to business owners, they will still need to convince the courts that the decision was made to discriminate and was not part of a complicated foreign policy dispute.

For example, Airbnb does not boycott several other occupied disputed areas in the world, but it does boycott Russian-occupied Crimea, meaning Jewish settlers in the West Bank are not the only ones in an occupied area who are banned by Airbnb.

The plaintiffs could respond by saying that Crimea is a unique situation because of global sanctions, and that Jews in the West Bank are the only group in an occupied area without sanctions that Airbnb has banned.

Furthermore, they could note that Palestinians in the West Bank can still list rentals as a direct point of comparison and discrimination.

However, even if the case goes beyond a public relations stunt, it will be an uphill battle and its main result may be a district court decision against Airbnb which the Supreme Court reverses, or may lead to a new law to plug the existing loophole.

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