Earlier this month, Airbnb reversed its policy to remove listings in the West Bank from its website and phone application.
The reversal came in the wake of two federal court settlements on Monday, April 9. The vacation rental company was sued by two groups of American Jewish plaintiffs. Airbnb settled both lawsuits.
One of these plaintiffs was Scottsdale resident Joel Taubman, who feels that the reversal was a victory for Jews around the world. “My only regret in the case is that the courts did not have the opportunity to declare openly that it is discrimination under U.S. law to bar Jews and Israelis from renting in Judea and Samaria,” he said. “Reversing Airbnb’s discriminatory policy on Judea and Samaria was the purpose of Harow v. Airbnb. We are ecstatic at Airbnb’s turnaround, our settlement with Airbnb to resolve this case, and the message it sends to those who would boycott Israel.”
Taubman, 28, a project manager for the communication infrastructure company Crown Castle, was represented by the San Francisco-based law firm Zell Aron & Co. He was one of five plaintiffs the firm represented in the Harrow et al v. Airbnb lawsuit filed shortly after Airbnb announced the listings removal policy in November 2018.
Zell Aron & Co. claimed on the plaintiffs’ behalf that the policy violated both the Federal Fair Housing Act and California law.
In a press release, the law firm suggested that Airbnb had been pressured by certain humanitarian rights organizations. Shortly after announcing the lawsuit, Amnesty International released a 96-page report, “Destination: Occupation,” stating that Airbnb and similar countries were contributing to and profiting from “the maintenance, development and expansion of illegal settlements, which amount to war crimes under international criminal law.”
Abraham Katsman, an attorney working with the firm on the suit, suggested that the delisting policy had been a serious misstep by Airbnb.
“Airbnb may well have adopted this policy without thinking through either the justice of the decision or its discriminatory legal ramifications,” Katsman said. “The reversal of this policy brought about by settling our suit should restore equal treatment for all, consistent with Airbnb’s stated principles — not to mention those of the United States of America.”
In Airbnb’s November announcement, the company said that it would remove some 200 rental listings in West Bank settlements because it contended that the settlements “are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Katsman said that what Airbnb describes as “the core,” is a gross oversimplification of a complex problem.
Some of the other criticism mounted against Airbnb was that the company’s policy in the West Bank was hypocritical because the company had listings in places like Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus and war-torn Yemen.
Shortly after announcing the policy reversal, Airbnb said in a statement that the company would now donate any profits from the West Bank listings to humanitarian groups. The same policy will apply to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two disputed territories adjacent to Georgia. The company will also be evaluating its listings in other disputed territories.
“If Airbnb determines homes — the core of our business — are central to ongoing tensions, we will adopt the same approach of allowing listings and donating Airbnb’s profits generated by Airbnb host activity in the region to nonprofit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world,” Airbnb wrote in a statement.
Even though Airbnb has stated that it did not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Taubman said that its now defunct policy was “discriminatory in effect and acted as a signal to the anti-Semitic BDS movement that their pressure campaigns could work.”
Taubman believes that all people, including Jews and Palestinians, should be free to travel and rent their homes on Airbnbregardless of where they travel to.And he’s looking forward to an upcoming trip to the West Bank this summer.
“I am happy to now be able to use Airbnb for some of the trip as they have an excellent platform and incredible hosts,” Taubman said. “I am glad that overturning this policy has brought that reality one step closer. We continue to pray for peace in Jerusalem so that necessary restrictions affecting Israelis, Arabs and all others touched by this conflict can be lifted.” JN