Let’s talk about the lawsuit against Airbnb

Let’s talk about the lawsuit against Airbnb

A bulldozer is seen next to a new housing construction site in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa (background) in east Jerusalem on March 19, 2014 (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)

The lawsuit against Airbnb’s de-listing of Israeli settlement properties sounds pretty flimsy: religious discrimination (illegal settlements are by definition all-Jewish); failure to provide equal access (Palestinians are barred completely – and it’s their land); Airbnb is siding with Palestinians against the occupation (everything about the occupation and settlements is illegal, so, yeah).

by Kathryn Shihadah, Palestine Home

The global tourism company Airbnb decided this week to de-list properties it has offered for rent in Israeli settlements. Amnesty International has been pushing for Airbnb to make this move and praised it as “a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft.”

Ha’aretz reports that a group of American Jews now plan to sue Airbnb for religious discrimination.

Since the plaintiffs are Jewish, the lawsuit implies a charge of anti-Semitism – an accusation that has become more and more common lately.

A great deal of controversy has sprung up around the “Israel-centric” definition of anti-Semitism that essentially forbids even legitimate criticism of Israel.

This restrictive definition has even found its way into Congress as the (widely criticized) “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” and similar bills in a number of states and even countries.

While America awaits Airbnb’s court date in Delaware, the court of public opinion is already in session. If we are going to judge this case, we’d better get familiar with the details. Drawing conclusions without understanding context would be irresponsible.

The charges

According to the lawsuit, Airbnb is in violation of the U.S. Fair Housing Act by discriminating on religious grounds.

Robert Tolchin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, explained: “Airbnb has made a religion- and nationality-based decision…’We will not list for Jews in the West Bank.’” He elaborated, “It should be equal access for all.”

Some of the plaintiffs, among them Israeli-Americans, claim to own homes in West Bank settlements, and want to rent them out; others say they want to be future clients. All view Airbnb’s policy as “redlining” – targeting only Jewish-owned properties to be de-listed, while allowing Muslims and Christians in the West Bank to continue renting their homes.

They insist that this amounts to Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish a state and which Israel captured in 1967, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against Airbnb to “block future discrimination against Jews and Israelis,” plus damages to cover lost rental income and legal fees.

Let’s talk about the charges.

In 2017, Robert Tolchin represented a group of Israelis and five families of U.S. citizens killed or injured in overseas attacks linked to Hamas in lawsuits against Facebook. The charge: Facebook allows itself to be used by jihadists and terrorists.

Discrimination?

Tolchin claims that Airbnb’s decision to de-list settlement rental properties was “religion- and nationality-based,” and that Muslims’ and Christians’ homes are not subject to the policy. Among the West Bank population, only Jews are subject to the policy.

Airbnb insists that those specific properties – Jewish-owned homes in the West Bank – “contribute to human suffering.” Tolchin does not address this point in his statement, but it is an important part of the context.

The West Bank is part of occupied Palestinian Territory, not Israel. The land under question was confiscated from Palestinians and appropriated by Israelis. In violation of international law, Israel transferred some of its citizens into occupied territory to live on Jewish-only settlements.

To be clear, only Israeli Jews – not Israeli Christians or Israeli Muslims – live on these settlements. Airbnb’s “redlining” targeted not a religious group, but a body of people who live illegally on someone else’s land.

All Israeli Jews living on West Bank settlements – not just Airbnb hosts, but all 600,000 – live illegally on someone else’s land.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes, businesses, farms, and orchards due to settlements; settlers do indeed “contribute to human suffering.”

Christians and Muslims in the West Bank are not subject to the de-listing policy – not because Airbnb is showing religious preference, but because these groups are casualties of injustice, not perpetrators.

Equal opportunity?

The plaintiffs are either rental home hosts in settlements, or potential customers. Thanks to Airbnb’s new policy, it will not be possible to arrange rentals on their website.

Conversely, thanks to Israel’s policy, Palestinians have not been allowed to live in their homes or farm in their fields for over 50 years. Instead, they live as refugees.

Attorney Tolchin’s plea for “equal access for all” drips with irony, as the whole point of settlements is that they are Palestinian-free zones on Palestinian land. “Equal access” in this context means “all Jews are equally welcome, and non-Jews are equally unwelcome.”

Likewise the “damages” the plaintiffs seek – lost rental income – pale in comparison to the damages Palestinians experienced in the loss of their homes, the decades of lost income, and the casualties of justice, innocence, and hope.

Taking sides?

The other accusation Tolchin mentions is Airbnb’s sin of taking sides.

Airbnb had a moral obligation to take sides when it learned the facts. Airbnb did not choose to pick on Jews, but took action against oppression, knowing that to stay neutral would be to side with the oppressive regime.

The summation

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Airbnb are not able to substantiate the accusation of religious discrimination, since Airbnb’s policy is in reality based not on religion, but on international law and human suffering.

The allegation of unequal access is likewise feeble: no one has less access to the properties in question than the Palestinians who actually own the land.

As for the accusation that Airbnb has taken sides, that one is true – it is just not illegal or punishable. In fact, it is a moral imperative.

The verdict

The court of public opinion, having explored context, is now free to deliberate.

How do you find the defendant?


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