Israeli Justice Minister Looking Into Discrimination Charges Against Airbnb

Justice Ministry believes a case could be built against Airbnb for violating the law against discrimination in provision of services after delisting rental properties in Jewish West Bank settlements

Moria Shapira Airbnb's apartment owner smiles outside of her apartment in Adei Ad outpost north of the Palestinian village of al-Mughayyir, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 20 2018.
AFP

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Wednesday she would ask Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to look into pressing charges against Airbnb in response to its decision to delist rental properties in West Bank Jewish settlements.

The government has been up in arms over Airbnb’s announcement on Monday, and ministers have been seeking retribution in various ways.

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

The Justice Ministry believes a case could be built against Airbnb for violating the law against discrimination in provision of services, following an amendment from 2017 that blocked discrimination based on location of residence.

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“Anyone who provides a product or service, or operates a public place, cannot discriminate in providing that product or service due to location of residence,” the clause states.

Such an interpretation of the law would necessitate defining Airbnb as an Israeli company, regardless of where its offices are actually located.

If the company is indeed found to be in violation of the law, this is both a civil infraction as well as a criminal offense. On the civil front, citizens who are harmed by the company’s actions could sue for up to 50,000 shekels ($13,400) in compensation without proving damages. In this case, plaintiffs could seek legal assistance from the Justice Ministry without having to prove financial need.

If the company is convicted, it could face a fine of up to 200,000 shekels for every offense and the court could order it to halt operations in Israel.

On Wednesday, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan 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,” added Erdan, the point-man in Israeli government efforts to combat pro-Palestinian boycotts.

A spokesman for Airbnb declined to comment on Erdan’s remarks.

On Tuesday, Erdan said he would consult with the U.S. government on the matter.

“We will approach the U.S. government because 25 U.S. states have sanctions against American companies that boycott Israel,” Erdan said on Israeli Army Radio.

“In this respect, there is no distinction between this part or that part of the State of Israel,” he said, asserting that the West Bank, which Israel has never annexed, should also fall under the anti-boycott protection.

Airbnb said it has developed a framework for evaluating how it should treat listings in occupied territories around the world.

“Israel is a special place and our over 22,000 hosts are special people who have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to Israel. We understand that this is a hard and complicated issue and we appreciate everyone’s perspective,” Airbnb’s Global Head of Policy and Communications Chris Lehane said in an emailed statement.

Erdan said Airbnb “will have to explain why it is taking this discriminatory and racist line here in particular and not in other conflict zones in the world.”

Airbnb does not intend 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.

With reporting by Reuters.