Since Airbnb, an online marketplace for vacation rentals, announced its decision last month to remove listings of “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank” (i.e., Jewish-owned properties in Judea and Samaria), there have been three basic responses in the Jewish world.
The self-loathing Jewish hard left once again showed its true colors by wholeheartedly embracing Airbnb’s patently discriminatory decision to target Jewish property owners wishing to use its service while allowing non-Jewish ones in the same geographic area to benefit from that service. Indeed, some of the lost souls of the Jewish left felt that Airbnb’s policy didn’t go far enough. A total boycott and the complete isolation of Israel is what they seek.
A second approach, more closely related to the first than its proponents would like you to believe, was to minimize the boycott if not to explain it away altogether. These are some of the same voices that often normalize Arab violence, whether in the form of rockets from Gaza or the types of terror attacks that have taken the lives of precious Jews like Ari Fuld. Relax, they tell us. Don’t overreact. You’ll only make it worse.
And yet amidst the moral blindness and confusion of the first two reactions, in the weeks since the Airbnb announcement, a third response has rapidly gained traction. Many Jews in Israel and around the world, as well as our non-Jewish friends and allies, have correctly discerned the implications of this moment and have indicated a willingness to take action.
Against the backdrop of ever-increasing demonization of Israel, as well as the surging and often violent anti-Semitism like that which culminated in the recent massacre of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, a not-so-subtle shift can be detected. Many Jews are starting to realize the importance of standing up to the fundamentally anti-Semitic policy at the root of Airbnb’s announcement beyond the faux “socially conscious” rhetoric offered by the company in all of its corporate speak glory.
In a refreshing turn of events, Israeli political figures eschewed the more diplomatic type of response that might have pleased those who live in fear of Jewish “overreactions.” Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan minced no words in publicly condemning Airbnb and directly linked the company’s actions to the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. He called for an international counter-boycott and for governmental bodies around the world to take action on a legislative level to combat BDS even as he sang the praises of Airbnb’s corporate rival, Booking.com.
On the heels of his call, Jewish residents targeted by Airbnb filed a class-action lawsuit in Jerusalem District Court over the company’s discrimination. Their petition decries the manner in which Airbnb specifically chose to delist Jewish-owned properties in Israeli settlements while allowing properties in disputed regions all over the world to remain on its site.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the reaction to Airbnb rapidly took on a legal character as well. Within days, over a dozen American Jewish plaintiffs assisted by the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center filed a federal lawsuit alleging illegal redlining of Jewish-owned properties in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The response on the part of American elected officials started locally and accelerated from there when the city council of Beverly Hills, California, wasted no time in passing a resolution unequivocally condemning Airbnb. Vice Mayor John Mirisch declared in a statement accompanying the resolution that Airbnb is “not welcome in Beverly Hills as long as its policies are based on anti-Jewish double standards.”
One of the first responses at the state level came from Governor-elect Ron DeSantis of Florida, who minced no words in indicating that Airbnb’s boycott likely violates Florida’s anti-BDS laws. DeSantis called upon Airbnb to “re-evaluate and reverse” its policy and stated that the company would face “rough sledding” in the event it fails to do so once he becomes governor.
As reported in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, State Rep. Randy Fine had an equally blunt take on the potential for Airbnb’s bottom line to be adversely affected in tourism-friendly Florida, stating that Airbnb’s choice “may have been to exit the Florida market. Florida has a pretty clear policy: If you boycott Israel, we boycott you.”
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner called for his state’s Investment Policy Board to investigate whether or not Airbnb violated anti-BDS laws. Legislation passed by Illinois in 2015 singles out companies that boycott Israel by placing them on a list of restricted companies in which publicly funded state pensions may not invest.
Given that some 26 states have enacted anti-BDS legislation, the positions taken by elected officials in Florida and Illinois may only be the beginning of Airbnb’s problems on that level.
At the national and international levels, Vice President Mike Pence strongly condemned Airbnb at the Israeli-American Council’s annual gathering in Miami last weekend. He singled out the company even as he blasted the broader BDS movement: “In the wake of Airbnb’s decision to ban Jewish homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, we made it clear, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is wrong and it has no place in the free enterprise of the United States of America.”
As impressive as the initial reaction against Airbnb has been, we mustn’t sit back and assume that the issue will somehow take care of itself now that lawsuits have been filed and several elected officials have gotten involved. To the contrary, we must understand that countless other companies are quietly watching and waiting to see how this issue will play out.
There is so much more to be done in order not only to keep up the pressure on Airbnb, but to increase it. All of us need to look for ways to do so. In particular, communal leaders, rabbis, synagogues and Jewish organizations of all types must step up to the plate and publicly take a stand against Airbnb and the BDS phenomenon as a whole.
To be sure, the Airbnb boycott in and of itself is not the most momentous issue facing the Jewish people and, for that matter, neither is BDS. But that really isn’t the point. They are symptomatic of something much more fundamental and of a larger set of disturbing trends. Think of Airbnb as the smiling, friendly and supposedly socially responsible face of corporate anti-Semitism.
What is even more significant is Jewish apathy and refusal to act. When it comes from “those who do not know”—those Jews who have been raised in environments bereft of Jewish education and a healthy sense of Jewish pride—it is perhaps understandable. When it comes from “those who know,” it is completely unacceptable.
A policy of “not getting involved in such issues” or the myriad of other excuses that have been reflexively offered in the past by too many in positions of Jewish leadership ring hollow in today’s world. History, recent events and the interconnected (if not “intersectional”) nature of anti-Semitism all demonstrate that it is a world that is increasingly dangerous for Jews. Jewish inaction in the face of what we’re up against is not only unwise and self-defeating. It is actually unsafe.
By Eric Ruskin
Eric Ruskin is an attorney and a member of the Board of Directors of the Israel Independence Fund.