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Airbnb’s Anti-West Bank Policy Shows Why Laws Against BDS Matter


Want to fight The Man? If you’re too young to have fought for civil rights, you’ve got the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS).

BDSers wrap themselves in the cloak of justice, but their high-minded rhetoric quickly devolves into hate, because at bottom, stigmatizing democratic Israel isn’t hopeful. BDS is a high-stakes game of pressure that affects individual students, performing artists, and corporations, as the movement pursues a long game of destroying Israel. As Airbnb learned when they sided with the BDS bullies last year, it’s not necessarily a wise business decision.

Airbnb’s Politicized Decision about West Bank

Last November, Airbnb made headlines when they announced that, after consulting with various experts, they would de-list approximately 200 properties in Jewish communities within Israel’s Judea and Samaria regions, better known stateside as the West Bank. The company’s rationale was that these locations “are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

On its face, this was an odd move for a business. An American for-profit corporation that serves private, paying customers went out of its way to take sides in one of the world’s most sensitive and emotional political disputes. In response, lawsuits were filed on behalf of affected hosts, would-be hosts, and travelers.

The San Francisco legal complaint made the case that Airbnb acted in response to pressure from the BDS movement and its alliesthe groundwork for which the United Nations helped lay. Now, Airbnb denied supporting “the BDS movement, any boycott of Israel, or any boycott of Israeli companies” last November. However, that’s not how it looked to either supporters or detractors of that policy, all of whom read the situation as Airbnb taking sides in the BDS battle.

Airbnb reversed itself last week. So, the company will not de-list the relevant properties, and an Airbnb spokesman told The Federalist that associated profits will be directed to a still unnamed nonprofit organization that is not connected to either Israeli or Palestinian issues.

In a call with The Federalist, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean and director of global social action agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, observed, “Whatever Airbnb thought they were going to achieve by making this move, what they were doing was emboldening those who want to punish Israel for real and imaginary sins and singularly call it out time and again for isolation.”

That action led to strong, real-world reactions for the company. Beyond the lawsuits, Politico Pro noted that Airbnb “was also blacklisted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet because the plan appeared to support a boycott on Israel.” This matters because Florida is both populous and a popular tourist destination. Florida also represents only one of the 27 states that currently have state laws enabling governments to avoid working with companies that boycott Israel.

Airbnb declined to comment on why they changed course—whether it was the threat of legal action, financial loss, state-level anti-BDS legislation, or simply a recognition that they’d erred—but the shift was likely fueled by some combination of those factors. This underscores the importance of fighting BDS on all fronts: legal, legislative, financial, and in the court of public opinion.

Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who participated in the Delaware suit against Airbnb, emailed, “Other international companies need to learn the lessons from Airbnb’s mistake and understand that boycotting Israel and discriminating against Jews are unlawful acts which will ultimately result in dire legal consequences, public condemnations and embarrassment.”

Hopefully, Airbnb’s about-face will inspire other companies to think twice before bending to BDS, which Cooper describes as “a top tier concern of world Jewry.” But as far as deterrents go, this episode highlights the urgency of enacting anti-BDS laws not only at the state level, but also at the federal one.

Legislation Can Help

The Senate passed anti-BDS legislation when they adopted Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s S. 1 in January. S. 1 bundled four Middle East-related bills. One of those four bills was the Combating BDS Act of 2019, which allows state and local governments, as well as employee benefit plan staff, to avoid doing business with—that is, giving public dollars to—companies that boycott Israel.

By contrast, U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has not been eager to pass the House’s companion bill, H.R. 336, “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019.” To catalyze forward motion, Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and David Kustoff (R-TN) initiated a parliamentary maneuver to force consideration of the bill last week. If this discharge petition garners 218 votes, Pelosi would have to introduce the bill. According to Politico Pro, “All 197 Republicans are sure to sign on, which means 21 Democratic signatures are needed.”

In another year, finding 21 Democrats willing to support pro-Israel legislation should have been a cakewalk. However, 2019 is not any old year. Given Democrats’ internal ferment over Israel, Pelosi does not want to touch this bill.

Of course, there’s nothing in the bill that should be controversial. Regardless, S. 1 became a political hot potato among Senate Democrats precisely because of its anti-BDS provision,. With an eye on Democratic primary voters, all of the Senate’s Democratic presidential aspirants, save Amy Klobuchar, voted against it.

BDS is not an issue that allows for splitting the baby. As Darshan-Leitner noted, “BDS is an anti-Semitic campaign which purports to care about human rights but whose real goal is to completely replace the Jewish State with a Palestinian one.” That’s the shell game, in a nutshell. So those who oppose BDS should oppose the movement vigorously.

For those at home who want to help repel BDS, here are two suggestions: First, if you live in one of the 23 states that currently lacks an anti-BDS law, ask your state representatives and governor to change that. Second, keep your eye on the House. Call your member of Congress and make sure he or she signs this discharge petition, especially if you’re represented by a self-identified pro-Israel Democrat. Now is the time for those representatives to prove it.