Opinion |

Boycott Airbnb, Unless You're Good With anti-Semitism

Even if you fiercely oppose the occupation, you should still be able to see that denying Jews rights that you don’t seek to deny to others, even other occupiers, is bias. That bias is anti-Semitism

Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin
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Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks during an event in San Francisco. Feb. 22, 2018
For the many, not the Jew? Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks during an event in San Francisco. Feb. 22, 2018Credit: Eric Risberg,AP
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin

Are Israel and its supporters making too much of Airbnb’s ban on listings in the West Bank?

The home rental company’s decision to single out the settlements provoked a furious (and ongoing) attack from Israel’s government. Legal action against Airbnb is being threatened and Zionist activists are already urging Jews to boycott the company for what they believe is a decision that not only gives a victory to the BDS movement but reeks of anti-Semitism, and a capitulation to anti-Semitic threats. Some on the right have gone as far as to accuse Airbnb of desiring a "Judenfrei West Bank."

In response, critics of the settlements within Israel and Diaspora communities are snickering at what strikes them as a disproportionate response.

As David Rosenberg noted in Haaretz, an attempt to boycott Airbnb in retaliation for its ban on settlement listings is likely to hurt Israelis who use the service and might impact tourism to the Jewish state.

Critics of the government response also say that the pushback against anti-settlement measures is nothing more than an attempt to blur the distinction between Israel within its internationally-recognized pre-June 1967 borders and the territories that just about everyone outside of Israel considers to be illegally occupied.

Even more to the point, they consider the argument that BDS activity is anti-Semitic, especially when it is restricted to efforts to isolate the settlements, subordinates the interests of all Jews to those of the settlement lobby.

>>Airbnb's Ban on Israeli Settlements Is Big Win for BDS, Not Necessarily for anti-Semites >> Airbnb Removes Chicago Apartment That Won't 'Tolerate' Zionism

But the problem with these arguments is that once you accept the principle that those who treat Israel differently from other countries can do so with impunity, you are treading on a dangerous path that ultimately legitimizes even more serious forms of discrimination against the Jewish state and Jews.

Airbnb’s statement on the issue of "listings in disputed regions" says its criteria for banning a region rest on points such as "safety risks for hosts and guests," whether the existence of listings is "contributing to existing human suffering," if the "existence of listings in the occupied territory has a direct connection to the larger dispute in the region."

The weirdest Airbnbs in West Bank settlements

To give itself a pass on double standards it also makes it clear that each dispute "is unique and must be judged on a case by case situation."

It is debatable whether West Bank settlements fit all of those criteria, since a stay in a settlement would probably expose a visitor to a lower risk of crime or injury than to those who stay in any major Western city.

However, there is no question that settlements are connected to the conflict even if - contrary to the stance of many of Israel’s critics - they are not the only or main obstacles to peace.

Palestinians believe the settlements cause suffering because ensuring the security of the Jews who live there creates problems for their neighbors. But that argument is undermined when you realize that the hassles for Palestinians are the result of terrorism, rooted in the fact that the presence of Jews in their midst is viewed as an indignity that must not be tolerated and should be resisted by violence.

As Airbnb’s critics, such as Deputy Minister Michael Oren, have pointed out, singling out settlements for a ban when the company doesn’t extend the same policy to other disputed territories employs a double standard that is a clear act of prejudice.

Using the company’s criteria, the only distinction between the settlements and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara or Russian-occupied Crimea is that the only nation Airbnb saw fit to discard from its network is the only Jewish state on the planet.

People cross the newly-opened Dherynia crossing separating the Republic of Cyprus and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. November 12, 2018Credit: AFP

But it is no compliment to Israel to be compared to those nations, even if Israel insists that the West Bank is disputed territory, rather than belonging to the Palestinians, though no other countries accept that argument.

Yet even if Israelis don’t like that comparison, Airbnb’s actions were prompted by a pressure campaign orchestrated by anti-Zionist groups such as Code Pink and various Palestinian groups that view a Jewish state within any borders as illegitimate.

Even if you oppose settlements, the spectacle of such groups working in coordination with the United Nations Human Rights Council to single out Israel in this fashion, when they ignore other territorial disputes, should remind us that there is more at stake here than the potential impact of settlers' bank balances.

As with so much else that revolves around BDS activism, it is impossible to separate their activities from the persistent strain of anti-Semitism that seems to motivate those involved.

To deny to Jews rights that you don’t seek to deny to others is bias. And bias against Jews is anti-Semitism. The fact that Airbnb will only prohibit listings posted by Jews and not Arabs in the West Bank gives that argument credence since, in doing so, Airbnb is discarding any notion of neutrality in the conflict.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, shows a map during an interview on Airbnb's decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements. Ramallah, West Bank, November 20, 2018Credit: \ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Noting the double standard is important. That is not because it is the obligation of all Jews to defend settlements, but because once one form of discrimination is legitimized, it isn’t a stretch to see the same standard applied across the board to all of Israel. That is especially true since many of those behind the pressure on Airbnb see no distinction between Tel Aviv and the most remote West Bank settlement.

Whatever its origins, in its current form BDS is indistinguishable from efforts to demonize the Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of the future of the settlements, those companies that succumb to BDS campaigns are granting a legitimacy it doesn’t deserve to a movement whose goal is antithetical to any hope for peace - as well as undermining the struggle against anti-Semitism.

Under those circumstances it is entirely reasonable for Jews and friends of Israel to conclude that using one of Airbnb’s competitors will send it a message that bowing to BDS - even only with respect to settlements - should not be tolerated.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

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