Airbnb’s decision last week to delist some 200 properties in Israel’s West Bank communities was certainly unfair. It’s an economic boycott focused on what the company calls the “discrimination” of Israel’s civilian and military presence in Judea and Samaria — some, including Airbnb, call it an “occupation” — while it ignores the long list of occupations and discriminations that are taking place elsewhere around the world.
Airbnb says it operates in 191 countries and regions. This fact may have prompted Israeli Deputy Minister Michael Oren to tweet about places where the company still freely lists available property rentals: Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, Tibet and Crimea. But while Airbnb’s move was judgmental and unfair, we do not believe that it is anti-Semitic, as some critics have charged. Airbnb, after all, continues to operate in Israel. Indeed, a quick check for rooms last weekend in Eilat turned up listings in English and Russian.
We view Airbnb’s decision as offensive, but no big deal. Israel said it will retaliate by slapping high taxes on Airbnb, and has encouraged delisted property owners to sue the company. But, in reality, the financial impact of the Airbnb move is a drop in the $373 billion Israeli economy bucket, and there are plenty of other rental sites that interested landlords and tenants can visit.
What the Airbnb brouhaha suggests, however, is that it may be time to accept the fact that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is a disturbing fact of life in an imperfect world, and that distinctions should be made in regard to the seriousness of any boycott attempt and the political, economic or other motivations of those who promote the boycotts.
Viewed through that lens, Airbnb’s move, while aggravating, makes very little difference. Airbnb does not seek the de-legitimization or destruction of Israel. It is simply caving to an intense lobbying effort in an area where political expression was never expected. If we rend our garments every time a firm “falls” to BDS, we risk drawing more attention to the movement and breathing new life into it, even though everyone acknowledges that, as an economic enterprise, the BDS effort has failed. In the face of that very clear reality, is it really worth wasting precious energy and political capital that could be better spent on a long list of other, pressing issues facing the Jewish community?
Airbnb issued a brief public statement regarding its decision, reflecting the profound naiveté of a company that has just discovered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Airbnb expressed hope for “global community alignment,” whatever that means, and we wish it much success in its international community kumbaya efforts.
In the meantime, let’s not give oxygen to the mindless haters and boycotters. And let’s give our business to those companies more inclined to treat people of all political beliefs and jurisdictions fairly. JN