The hysterical response of Israel’s cabinet ministers to the announcement by Airbnb that it will remove rental listings in West Bank settlements is definitive proof that the settlement enterprise is at the top of the government’s agenda. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to pay dearly in every possible area of life — at the public’s expense, and out of a willingness to damage Israel’s international status and image — in order to eliminate the distinction between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories.
Airbnb’s statement brought on a number of responses. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin instructed ministry officials to draw up measures to hurt the company’s activities in Israel. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called on property owners who will be adversely affected by the change to sue Airbnb. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to consider legal action against the company.
Government ministers were quick to blame the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. It should be noted, however, that Airbnb is boycotting not the state, but only just the settlements, which are built on occupied territory. It is not boycotting sovereign Israel and it does not want to cease its activities within the Green Line. But this is precisely the distinction the annexationist right seeks to blur. The settler right wants to equate the status of sovereign Israel with that of the settlements, even if Israel’s standing is harmed in the process. It wants to cause Israelis to think Airbnb’s move was motivated by anti-Semitism, that “Once again, Jews are undergoing ‘selection,’” as Shay Alon, the mayor of the settlement of Beit El, put it, alluding to the Holocaust. But that’s a mendacious manipulation, which serves those who want to legitimize annexation and depict animosity to the occupation and settlements as animosity to Jews.
>> Read more: Why Airbnb Will Have a Hard Time Enforcing Its Israeli Settlement Ban | Analysis
The tourism minister is prepared to forgo Airbnb’s activities in Israel — according to a survey conducted by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality last year, the city held a world record in the number of tourists staying in Airbnb accommodations — if only the world stops distinguishing between legitimate Israel and illegitimate Israel. He wants to worsen tourism conditions in Israel in order to equate them to those in the occupied territories.
But the Airbnb decision is another reminder that the distinction between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories remains firm and valid. The position of the world is that the settlements are illegal. The world recognizes sovereign Israel and refuses to recognize the settlements. The annexationist right is willing to take the risk that the world will stop recognizing the State of Israel, solely in order to maintain its refusal to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories.
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