Two very different organizations took action last week against Jews owning property in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority sentenced two Palestinians to 15 years hard labor for selling land to Jews. And Airbnb, the tech behemoth and online marketplace for lodging, announced it would no longer serve Jewish communities in the West Bank. The two actions differ in brutality but are based on the same idea: Jews should have no home in the West Bank.
Under Airbnb’s policy, an American Jew with a rental property in the West Bank is barred from listing it for rent on the website. But an American Arab is welcome to list his home a few hundred meters away, even though the Palestinian law forbidding real-estate deals with Jews carries a maximum penalty of death. That openly racist policy doesn’t trigger Airbnb’s delisting policy.
Airbnb admits the West Bank is the site of complicated “historical disputes.” Until 1948, the West Bank was part of the League of Nations’ 1922 British Mandate for Palestine, created to become a “national home” for the Jewish people. In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution suggesting the territory be divided into Arab and Jewish states, an idea the Arabs immediately shot down. Indeed, when the mandate ended and Israel declared independence in 1948, all its Arab neighbors invaded immediately. Jordan occupied the West Bank and massacred or expelled every Jew in the area, took their homes and destroyed their synagogues. Israel only regained the West Bank after Jordan foolishly attacked again in 1967. Many Jews then returned, including to lands Jews had purchased before Israeli independence.
Since then, the dispute has narrowed. Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian leadership in 1993, leaving all settlements—the new and returning Jewish communities—under complete Israeli control. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. To be sure, the Palestinians still demand the removal of Jews from the entire West Bank. But Airbnb’s policy applies only to the Israeli—primarily Jewish—communities in the disputed territories.
Israeli cities in the West Bank are open to any lawful resident of Israel, including Arabs. By contrast, any Jew who enters the West Bank’s Palestinian towns risks his life.
Why has Airbnb singled out Israel from all the nations? The company tried to ward off accusations of hypocrisy by noting, “each situation is unique and requires a case-by-case approach.” But so far the only situation unique enough to warrant delisting is the one involving Jews.
Airbnb lists homes in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, one of the world’s most brutal occupations. It lists vacation homes in northern Cyprus, which Turkey invaded, expelling almost all Greek Cypriots and expropriating their homes. Nor does Airbnb have a problem serving Kashmir, Tibet and other such places. Last week a Kohelet Policy Forum report revealed many major companies active in the West Bank also do business in occupied territories and with settler regimes around the world, without a word of criticism from the groups that pressured Airbnb.
Airbnb had rebuffed prior boycott requests, but its reversal pre-empted by one day a Human Rights Watch report on its listings in the West Bank. Airbnb also is reportedly on a forthcoming U.N. Human Rights Council blacklist of firms operating in Israeli settlements.
Airbnb’s capitulation underscores the need for Congress to pass the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would bar U.S. firms from complying with U.N. boycotts of Israel, like they’re already prohibited from adhering to the Arab League’s boycott. Many U.S. states also have laws prohibiting their pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel or territories it administers. State pension boards will likely be looking at Airbnb’s policy before its planned initial public offering next year.
Airbnb’s exclusion of Jewish communities in the West Bank cannot be ignored. Many states, such as Florida and Alabama, let public employees traveling on official business use Airbnb. These governments should immediately suspend permission to use Airbnb until its discriminatory policy is reversed.
This article was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.