Airbnb falls for BDS’s antisemitic trap

The logo of Airbnb is displayed at an Airbnb event in Tokyo, Japan, June 14, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO)
The logo of Airbnb is displayed at an Airbnb event in Tokyo, Japan, June 14, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO)
On November 19, Airbnb announced that it was “removing listings” in “Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank.” The company provided no details as to how it defines “Israeli settlements” or the “Occupied West Bank” and whether its decision relates to Jerusalem, and in particular, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
The obvious question is why Israel? Why not any other conflict zone around the world, or the many dictatorships and closed regimes? Why did Airbnb become the center of the latest nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, and allow Ken Roth, the head Human Rights Watch (HRW), to tout Airbnb’s decision as ending the company’s complicity in “rights violations?” If this were truly about human rights, Airbnb could delist China, the country occupying Tibet and responsible for detaining nearly one million members of the Muslim Uyghur minority in “reeducation camps.” Chinese homes make up about 4% of Airbnb’s listings, while the “settlement” listings are just 0.004% of the total.
If they were honest, Airbnb’s executives would admit that this change in policy targeting Jewish-owned homes in the West Bank followed a coordinated and well-financed campaign led by BDS NGOs. The campaign is headed by US-based Human Rights Watch, alongside smaller radical NGOs, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Who Profits, and CODEPINK. The funders responsible for this campaign include a number of European governments, and at least five of the leading NGOs involved receive support from the US-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
For at least two years, Airbnb’s Israel-related business was under sustained attack from these self-proclaimed human rights groups, noisily accusing the company of “profiting from Apartheid” and “violating international law.” There is no doubt that the company feared being included in the forthcoming UNHRC “blacklist” of companies doing business over the 1949 Armistice line, and other forms of negative publicity. Their lofty rhetoric notwithstanding, this policy was a form of political and economic blackmail, and not the result of legal or moral principle – indeed Airbnb acknowledges that offering listings in West Bank “settlements” is not illegal.
As Airbnb states, their “global platform” is offered in 191 countries and regions and in more than 81,000 cities. These include human rights violators on massive scales, such as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and even war-torn Yemen and Somalia. Airbnb listings can be found in the occupied Western Sahara, Nagorno-Karabakh and Northern Cyprus. There is even one listing for Russian-occupied Crimea.
State sponsors of terror are not being removed from Airbnb’s platform, nor are countries where gender equality is nearly nonexistent. Only Jewish-owned properties in the West Bank have been the subject of an intensive NGO campaign.
Of course, Airbnb’s services will be available to Palestinians and tourists in Area A of the West Bank – an area which Israelis are prohibited from entering. There are even listings in Gaza, controlled by the Hamas terror group, that are obviously unavailable to Israelis as well. Not to mention that Israelis, simply because they are citizens of the Jewish State, are excluded from Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, the UAE and Yemen. HRW and its “Israel and Palestine Director” Omar Shakir distorted reality when they argued that by “delisting” a few apartments in the West Bank, Airbnb had met its “human rights responsibilities.”
The hypocrisy of the celebratory rhetoric demonstrates the nature of this BDS campaign. For HRW, JVP, and the broader and irresponsible NGO network, a political move that will not help a single Palestinian nor bring the region closer to peace, is a great “victory.” Is going after 139 (out of more than four million) Airbnb listings truly the greatest human rights concern warranting two years of advocacy efforts, time, and money?
Yet, Airbnb, demonstrating complete ignorance of the Arab-Israeli conflict’s political dynamics, fell for their trap.
In the age of corporate social responsibility, companies are paying closer attention to the impacts of their business on equality and human rights. NGOs are trusted as third-party monitors, alerting companies to when they become complicit in harm, even if this trust is undeserved and betrayed.
Unfortunately, these noble concepts have been hijacked by discriminatory BDS activists. In contrast to the universal ideals of human rights, BDS campaigns attempt to isolate Israel internationally and to challenge the Jewish State’s very legitimacy. According to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the “double standards” utilized by these campaigns are antisemitic. BDS is also against dialogue and peaceful coexistence, as activists favor “anti-normalization” policies that drive Israelis and Palestinians further apart. They are further against Airbnb’s own belief in bringing “people together in as many places as possible around the world.”
And yet, Airbnb, a company that prides itself on “nondiscrimination” and is committed to “inclusion and respect,” is now engaged in this discriminatory campaign. 
The writer is deputy editor and responsible for the Canada portfolio at NGO Monitor.