Legal Blowback Begins Against Airbnb Ban

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is mulling over criminal proceedings against the travel site, while a class action suit against Airbnb is being brought to court

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked delivers a statement to members of the media, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem November 19, 2018.
REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The legal blowback in Israel against Airbnb’s decision to bar listings from West Bank settlements has begun.

Late on Wednesday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said she was consulting with Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit about whether criminal proceedings could be taken against the U.S. company for violating Israel’s anti-discrimination laws.

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Meanwhile, Ma’anit Rabinovich, who had been renting rooms to visitors from her home in the West Bank settlement of Kida, filed a class action suit in Jerusalem District Court on Thursday, alleging “outrageous discrimination” and demanding monetary damages of 5,000 shekels ($1,340).

The suit, which was filed against Airbnb as well as an organization called Kerem Navot, also seeks an unspecified sum on behalf of others in the same situation. Kerem Navot is alleged to have encouraged Airbnb’s move after it coauthored a report with Human Rights Watch titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land.”

“The company’s decision is in effect directed solely against Israeli citizens living in the settlements, the petitioner claims, and this is severe, especially outrageous discrimination,” Rabinovich’s lawyers said.

In a statement emailed to Reuters on Tuesday, Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s global head of policy and communications, said: “We understand that this is a hard and complicated issue and we appreciate everyone’s perspective.”

Justice Ministry lawyers said Airbnb could be in violation of Section 3 (1A) of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry to Entertainment and Public Places. A 2017 amendment adds discrimination by place of residence to the legislation.

Violations are deemed a criminal and civil offense. An injured party can claim damages up to 50,000 shekels without proof of damage. Shaked said punishments could be up to 200,000 shekels per violation and that a court could order Airbnb to stop all activity in Israel.