Airbnb Says It Suspends Implementation of West Bank Settlement Ban

'Our policy will not be implemented,' the company said in Hebrew statement following a meeting with Israeli tourism minister, adding it will continue negotiations with the Israeli government. Later, an English announcement had a softer message

A Jewish-owned home listed on Airbnb near the Israeli settlement of Shiloh in the West Bank, November 20, 2018.
AFP

Airbnb announced Monday that it has suspended the implementation of its prior decision to remove listings in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, after sending a senior delegation to Israel to negotiate with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.

"Our policy will not be implemented," Airbnb said in a statement following the meeting in Jerusalem between Levin and the company's delegation, led by Airbnb Vice President Chris Lehane. "The company will continue its dialogue with the Israeli government."

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Levin said the company's decision “is a step in the right direction” and added he will “continue to make sure all Israeli citizens get equal treatment, and keep on strengthening tourism in Israel, including in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the biblical name of the West Bank.

>> Opinion: Liberal Zionists faced a critical test with Airbnb. We flunked it ■ Analysis: Airbnb's ban on Israeli settlements is big win for BDS, not necessarily for anti-Semites

Following the release of the Hebrew-language statement, Airbnb told Haaretz that it was "released in error" by staff in Israel and issued an  English-language statement saying that "we are here to meet with a variety of stakeholders and as a result of our meetings have an even deeper understanding that this is an incredibly complex and emotional issue." The statement added that the company told the Israeli government that "we are developing the tools needed to implement our policy and that process includes continuing our dialogue with the Government of Israel and other stakeholders."

Airbnb announced on November 19 that it had decided to remove its listings in West Bank settlements, considered illegal for taking up land where Palestinians seek statehood by most world powers.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan approached five U.S. governors following the move and requested that they act against Airbnb's decision.

Erdan called Airbnb's decision "the modern form of anti-Semitic practice," and asked that the governors "consider speaking out against the company's decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to commercial dealings."

The recipients included New York governor Andrew Cuomo, California governor Jerry Brown, outgoing Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, Missouri governor Mike Parson and newly elected Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

Several days after the letter was sent, Rauner recommended to the Illinois Investment Policy to stop investing in the home-renting company, according to Kan, Israel's public broadcaster.

Rauner, who lost the midterms elections and has only several more weeks on the job, called the company's decision "troubling" and vowed to work against it through his state's investment board, slated to meet next month.

In 2015, Illinois passed a law that explicitly bars the state's pension funds from dealing with companies that support the BDS movement.

More than 20 states are considering bills or have passed laws targeting companies that comply with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel. Most of these penalize only companies that boycott Israel, although nine states, like Illinois, have passed or are considering passing laws that extend the penalties to entities that boycott Israeli businesses operating in the West Bank.

The Israeli government has been up in arms over Airbnb’s announcement, and ministers have been seeking retribution in various ways. After the announcement, Erdan, the point-man in the government to combat pro-Palestinian boycotts, also called for a boycott of Airbnb and promoted one of its rivals.

“I call today on all those who support Israel and oppose discriminatory boycotts: they should cease using Airbnb and turn to other services,” Erdan told a diplomatic conference hosted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper. “By the way, Booking.com is a great service,” Erdan added.

There are 200 Airbnb listings in West Bank settlements. Airbnb has more than 22,000 hosts in Israel.

Airbnb never said it intends to remove Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, territory Israel annexed in a move not recognized abroad and which the Palestinians want for a future capital, or the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.