Texas is adding San Francisco-based home sharing firm Airbnb to a short list of companies that cannot receive state investments because it removed Israeli-owned rentals in the West Bank. In a press statement from Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s office, wrote: “our state stands with Israel and its people against those wishing to undermine Israel’s economy and the wellbeing of its people.” Airbnb removed the West Bank listings in November 2018.
Politics, Business, and Religion make for Strange Bedfellows
Airbnb is the only American-based company on Texas’ anti-Israel boycott list, which also includes a Norwegian financial services group, a British wholesale co-op, and a Norwegian insurance company.
The West Bank is core to the decades-long often violent dispute between Israelis and Palestinians with the Palestinians viewing the Israel presence in the region as occupation while the state of Israel sees it as its own. In November 2018, Airbnb announced it would remove about 200 listing in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It listed as a factor in its decision determining “whether listings in an occupied territory had a direct connection to a larger dispute in a region” and if the listings contribute to “to existing human suffering.” The company had determined that it did and that it also could be a “safety risks for our hosts and guests.”
Airbnb explained its decision last November in a blog post. “There are many strong views as it relates to lands that have been the subject of historic and intense disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.” Furthermore explaining its decision,
“Our hope is that someday sooner rather than later, a framework is put in place where the entire global community is aligned so there will be a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow. As of today, this is an aspirational hope.”
Christians United For Israel supports Texas’s decision: “They will fail because no matter how much they lie about and demonize the Jewish state, we at CUFI will ensure that conscientious people have the opportunity to learn the truth about the vibrant and democratic nation of Israel,” said CUFI founder John Hagee said in a press statement.
Human Rights Violations
In a recent report, human rights group Amnesty International said tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor contributed to human rights violations when they listed accommodations and attractions in Israeli settlements along the West Bank. Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories go against international law, according to Amnesty International, and booking accommodations there “helps fund an illegal endeavor.”
Around 26 states, including Texas, have laws on the books that prevent institutions from doing financial harm to Israel if they want support from state governments, citing a desire to avoid using to tax dollars to back stances hostile to a U.S. ally.
Democratic critics of laws cracking down on the BDS movement are increasingly skeptical of Israel’s policies and see legislative actions as an infringement on free speech. In January, Florida added Airbnb to a list of companies that it defines as boycotting Israel. The same month, a bill to crack down on the BDS movement was defeated by Democrats in the Senate.
The backlash over foreign actions comes at a time when the company is reportedly preparing for an IPO in 2019.
Airbnb is Not Boycotting Israel
The company says that it isn’t, “Airbnb is not boycotting Israel. Airbnb does not support the BDS movement, any boycott of Israel, or any boycott of Israeli companies. Our announcement affects approximately 200 listings in the West Bank and major US-based multinational hotel chains also do not offer accommodations in these areas.”
The home-sharing startup reported more than $1 billion in revenue during Q3 2018 and to have available more than six millions host listings worldwide.