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Airbnb's decision isn't about the Jews — it's about the occupation

The attacks on the vacation rental company for its decision to pull all listings from West Bank settlements miss one thing: Airbnb does not support boycotting Israel.

By Frima (Merphie) Bubis

The Israeli separation wall surrounds the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, April 9, 2011. (Activestills.org)

The Israeli separation wall surrounds the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, April 9, 2011. (Activestills.org)

On Monday evening, American hospitality company Airbnb announced it would be pulling its listings from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The announcement came just a few days before Human Rights Watch and Israeli settlement monitoring organization Kerem Navot were set to publish a major report about Airbnb listings in the West Bank — some of them on private Palestinian property in some of the most violent outposts in the West Bank.

Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists rushed to condemn the decision by declaring it anti-Semitic. Many Israelis and Jews who don’t necessarily support the occupation quickly bought into the self-victimization narrative, saying they felt that the decision unfairly targeted Israel. “Look at China or Yemen,” they said. “Why are they not being singled out?”

I, too, wondered whether there were other destinations Airbnb has pulled from its listings. I found that the company does not offer its services in countries such as Syria and Iran. Despite the hysteria, Israel is not being sanctioned by the company. Moreover, Airbnb has said that it would be looking into dropping its listings in Western Sahara, a territory under occupation by Morocco.

Airbnb’s decision, however, did not apply to listings in cities such as Tel Aviv, Mitzpe Ramon, or Haifa, but rather referred to “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” Those who support the settlement enterprise have every right to be outraged. But why are progressive Israelis and Jews — who support ending the occupation and a peaceful resolution with Palestinians — buying into the claim that Airbnb’s decision is singling out the Jewish state, and thus is anti-Semitic?

Why the settlements?

The decision not to operate in the settlements is clear cut. Airbnb’s new policy does not exclude listings inside Israel, nor does it prevent Palestinians in occupied territory from benefiting from its platform. The decision, instead, highlights the illegality and immorality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which violate international humanitarian law and are often built on private Palestinian property.



But this is not merely a dispute over territory. The existence of the settlements, home to approximately half a million Israelis, and which rely on the exploitation of local resources and the protection of the Israeli military, is a violation of basic Palestinians’ human rights.

These are the same settlements that deprive many Palestinians of being able to tend to their land, which often is their main source of income. Water, a natural resource in the West Bank, is disproportionately allocated for settlement use, while 250,000 Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli military control) live in unrecognized villages, disconnected from electricity and water, and face the imminent threat of home demolitions and expulsion.

A Jewish right-wing activist seen walking on a road near where a Jewish outpost was established in the controversial E1 area of the West Bank. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

An Israeli settler seen walking on a road near a Jewish outpost east of Jerusalem. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Guarding these settlements and maintaining two separate legal systems — military law for Palestinians, full rights for Israeli citizens — are soldiers. For two years, I was one of those soldiers working in the Civil Administration, which manages the civilian aspects of Israel’s military control over the West Bank.

Those who served in the occupied territories know that the closer a Palestinian lives or works to a settlement, the more frequently he or she will encounter Israeli soldiers, whose goal is often to “make their presence felt” and create special security zones “sterile” of Palestinians. These are the very same settlements that host the beautiful hilltop cottages found on Airbnb.

Furthermore, settlements are by default considered closed military zones to Palestinians. That means that even if Palestinians would choose to stay a night in a settlement listed on Airbnb, they would be prevented from doing so by Israeli soldiers guarding them. Allowing this to continue would be contradictory to Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy.

It’s the occupation, stupid

Let’s make one thing clear: the international community does not boycott Israel as a whole, but rather distinguishes between Israel proper and its settlements in the West Bank. While people can legitimately refrain from supporting Airbnb’s decision, progressives must realize that this distinction is precisely what helps counter a full boycott of Israel.

One can disagree on the tactic of boycotting of settlements. But calling Airbnb’s decision anti-Semitic is a complete dilution of our political discourse, and conflates Israel with the occupation. Furthermore, there are many Israeli and non-Israeli Jews who not only support the company’s decision, they work on a daily basis with their non-Jewish partners to hold up a mirror to Israeli society in order to end the occupation.

They believe that the Jewish people have a commitment to law and justice, that we should be dedicated to preserving human dignity. Accusing them of anti-Semitism is no less than absurd. No one is boycotting Jews, or even Israel. It’s the occupation, stupid.

Frima (Merphie) Bubis was raised in the religious-Zionist community, and today is the Jewish Diaspora coordinator for Breaking the Silence.

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    1. Baladi Akka 1948

      “The existence of the settlements, home to approximately half a million Israelis”
      It seems the author is not up to date on the numbers or maybe she just ‘forgot’ the settlers in East Jerusalem.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Raphael Grano

      Just to be precise, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms are also occupied territories, since 1967. Airbnb (and Booking as well) should exclude any business with local resorts. Right ?

      Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      Two weights, two measures. Jews can not go to Ramalla. Fortunately, Israel is preparing the countermeasures against this unfair decision.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Halevy, Jews, both army and settlers, not infrequently go all around Area A and B when they feel like it, and everyone looks the other way. It’s part of being an overlord in occupied territory. When is the last time West Bank or Gaza Palestinians were allowed to waltz into Tel Aviv or any other Israeli city? Or even their own city of Hebron? Your entitlement and your sense of what is fair and unfair continues to boggle the mind. A real display of the true overlord mentality.

        Now that a class action suit is being filed against Airbnb by the incomparably-entitled setters and the Israeli government it is going to be unwanted publicity for Israel and a propaganda coup for the Palestinians, but it will also be a moment when Israel openly shows its hand and admits that it considers the West Bank annexed, not occupied territory.

        It is remarkable how boycotts of Israel are always considered beyond the pale by Israelis but they feel absolutely entitled to aggressively boycott anyone they feel like boycotting.
        Part of this is the BDS movement’s self-inflicted problems. But Israel’s strategy has always been to work the Americans and Europeans to kill more selective mainstream sanctions, leaving the field to more militant and non-mainstream movements like BDS, who are then easily marginalized, vilified and anti-Semitized. (A subset of Israel’s complaining about ‘terror’ but doing absolutely nothing to foster good will and empower moderates and everything to empower extremists, or, Israel’s having-it-both-ways mentality. See Meron Rapoport’s “Netanyahu is stuck with Hamas, and he likes it that way,” and see Noam Sheizaf’s “Why do we only listen to violence?”) But Galia Golan’s selective sanctions may yet be the way to go:

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Does AirBnB boycott:
          Armenian towns in Nagorno-Karabach ?
          Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara ?
          Han Chinese villages in Tibet ?
          Hindu towns in Kashmir ?
          Turkish villages in North Cyprus ?

          If so, I have no problem with them boycotting Judea & Samaria so long they do so for both sides – Israelis and fakestinyan non-people.
          However, if they don’t (which is suspect to be true) then sueing these crooks is the only sane course of action.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Lewis: You’re ignoring what Frima Bubis actually writes, i.e., ‘the company does not offer its services in countries such as Syria and Iran. Despite the hysteria, Israel is not being sanctioned by the company. Moreover, Airbnb has said that it would be looking into dropping its listings in Western Sahara, a territory under occupation by Morocco. Airbnb’s decision, however, did not apply to listings in cities such as Tel Aviv, Mitzpe Ramon, or Haifa,but rather referred to “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”’

            And if you want to better understand why Israel gets treated differently than Turkey or China, it’s basically because Israelis are seen as Europeans and held to European standards. Leftists would never let Sweden or Germany or France do a colonization project similar to Israel’s current colonization project nowadays either, and I think you know that ==>

            “Israel’s problem is that the Palestinians have become a cause celebre to Western leftists…animated by an existential disgust at the European legacy of colonialism and claims of white supremacy….The underlying sin of colonialism and racism from the point of view of the left doesn’t apply to Turkey or China even when they are occupiers because they are part of the historic victim class of colonialism by Europeans. Israel on the other hand is considered to be a Western country: we are, goes the perception, Europeans who colonialized Palestine. The oppression of Jews in Europe, for centuries on end, is irrelevant to this point…The reality is that the world’s moral interests aren’t dictated by consistent or even logical standards, but by the power of one group to get its cause at the top of the world’s agenda. Cyprus doesn’t have the political resources and, even with a celebrity boost from the Dalai Lama, neither does Tibet.”


            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            We are not “whites” nor “Europeans”.
            We are Israeli Jews and we come in all colors and our roots are from the Land of Israel.
            All your Leftist, progressive prejudices are obviously nonsensical.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You see, Lewis, unlike you, I don’t presume to to tell people who they are and aren’t and deny them any right to self-determination and dehumanize them in order to make them who I want them to be. It is you who do that. I didn’t say Israelis *are* Europeans, and I certainly never said they are “white”–it is you who are racializing it–I said they are seen as Europeans and are held to European standards. I explained to you that Israel is seen as a Western country with a Western, European cultural inheritance from its very founding–and that is absolutely undeniable. And so, yes, they are in fact seen by their “roots”–which roots are far more complicated and rich than simply “from the Land of Israel”–which is a kind of kitsch, a self-serving, right wing, Leon Uris-style Disneyfication of matters.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: If you’re concerned with Nagorno-Karabach or Tibet, you are free to do what the campaign to get AirBnB out of the West Bank did: start a campaign – if you’re successful AirBnB will respond.

            It’s up to you.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            The legal retaliation has already begun. In addition the guest apartments in Judea and Samaria will be promoted with the help of the government. Better, an Israeli lawyer has reserved a rental domain name including the word Airbnb. Decision legally very difficult to attack. We are at the beginning of a long battle that we hope Airbnb will revisit this shocking decision.

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            once again confirming that the occupation is a straightforward expression of zionist doctrine.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You sound just like Al Capone’s lawyer, Halevy. “But Your Honor, my esteemed client, Mr. Capone, is a businessman…..” Gangsters.

            Reply to Comment
      • Tom

        Fake information, jews can go freely in palestinian territories, only israeli are forbiden, and it’s a interdiction comming from the israeli government itself !!

        Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould


      But that’s not all it did. It also revealed to the world, unintentionally, the best of the lies, the extortion, the demagoguery and the double standards of the settlers and their supporters in the government. When they yell “Holocaust,” because of bed and breakfasts, clearly they’ve run out of arguments. “Anti-Semitism,” “selection,” “persecution” – this time for a fistful of dollars going to the pockets of a handful of vacation profiteers on stolen land, trading in stolen goods. This is what the dispossession project is: It begins with a divine promise and ends with bed and breakfast.

      Reply to Comment
    5. itshak Gordine

      Airbnb has just given up its stupid decision

      Reply to Comment