RE/MAX Israel Pledges 'Business as Usual' Despite Plan to Pull Out of West Bank

Following pressure from Presbyterian Church, global real estate giant said it would cut ties with settlements, but Israeli franchise says it will keep working in West Bank.

Houses in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim near Jerusalem.
Reuters

Despite a recent promise by RE/MAX international headquarters to stop selling property in West Bank settlements, the Israeli franchise of the real estate giant says it has no plans to change the way it operates.

During its General Assembly two weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) had been scheduled to vote on a resolution sharply critical of RE/MAX for profiting from business in the occupied territories.

Just before the vote, company CEO and co-founder Dave Liniger sent a letter to church officials reassuring them that he had “recently taken action to ensure that RE/MAX, LLC will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank."

As a result, the language of the resolution, ultimately passed by a wide majority, was toned down.

However, RE/MAX Israel CEO Bernard Raskin told Haaretz last week that the decision "has zero impact on anything we are doing."

"I have nothing to do with the Presbyterian Church and will have nothing to do with them. I will continue to operate under Israeli law,” he said, adding that he had not been contacted by RE/MAX officials to discuss the matter.

Asked to explain the contradiction between the letter and Raskin’s response, a spokesman from the company’s international headquarters said in an email:

“RE/MAX LLC is now determining the specifics of a financial arrangement with the region.” He did not respond to a question as to whether that meant the Israeli franchise would be able to continue selling property in the West Bank under the RE/MAX brand name.

RE/MAX began operating in Israel in 1995, and today, it is the largest real estate agency in the country, with more than 100 offices and 1,000 agents. It is also one of the largest and most visible international corporations operating in the West Bank.

RE/MAX handles transactions in all the large Jewish settlements and has an office in Ma’aleh Adumim, a settlement just outside Jerusalem.

Raskin declined to divulge how large a share of business the West Bank settlements account for. He said that his contract was with RE/MAX Europe and not with the international headquarters based in Colorado.

In response to the letter received from RE/MAX just before their assembly met, Presbyterian Church officials said they were heartened but still awaited information on specific measures that had been taken by the company.

“We’re pleased that RE/MAX is acknowledging that its operations in the occupied territories are problematic from a legal and moral point of view, but we’re waiting to see what this means in practical terms," Marita A. Mayer, a chief advocate of the resolution, said in a press release.

"RE/MAX must follow up this statement with concrete action to fully end its complicity in Israel’s occupation and theft of Palestinian land.”

In 2014, the Presbyterian Church, which has 2.8 million members, voted to divest from companies that profit from or sustain the Israeli occupation.

In addition to its latest decision regarding RE/MAX, the church also voted to continue studying the international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel and not reject it out of hand, despite pressure to do so.

As one of the largest Protestant denominations in America, the Presbyterian Church own real estate around the country, giving it some leverage over RE/MAX, should it decide to take action against the company.

“The RE/MAX affair is the latest in a long chain of events in which Israeli companies have discovered that it is impossible to be involved in the settlement project and at the same time build business relationships and partnerships abroad,” said Adam Keller, spokesman of Gush Shalom, an Israeli anti-occupation organization that monitors businesses in the Jewish settlements.

“The two things contradict one another. When a company is faced with this sort of dilemma, almost invariably, it is business considerations that prevail.”

Several months ago, Gush Shalom said in a report that a growing number of Israeli companies operating in the West Bank have been moving their facilities back inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, in response to pressure from the boycott movement.