Lawyers in Israel filed a class action lawsuit on Thursday against home-rental company Airbnb, accusing it of “outrageous discrimination” and demanding monetary compensation over its delisting of dozens of properties from Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The San Francisco-based company said earlier this week it was removing listings of around 200 homes in settlements after hearing criticism from people who “believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.”
The decision prompted threats by Israeli officials to impose higher taxes on the company in retribution. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) encouraged Israelis to sue the company.
A lawsuit was filed by lawyers representing Ma’anit Rabinovich, who offers guest room rentals in the Jewish settlement of Kida, claiming 15,000 shekels ($4,000) in personal damages. The class action lawsuit seeks an as yet unspecified sum on behalf of others in the same situation, according to court papers presented to the Jerusalem District Court.
Airbnb’s move “represents especially grave, offensive and outrageous discrimination,” the lawyers said in a statement.
“Airbnb has no policy whatsoever pertaining to conflict zones in the world. It has a policy pertaining to settlements in Israel, and only to them. From the company’s perspective, it is permissible to refuse to rent to women or to minorities, and they also accept rentals in war zones and in areas where tens of thousands of people have been displaced. The only thing they can’t allow is to be a settler in the State of Israel. For Airbnb, this is an unforgivable crime that justifies immediate banishment from its website.”
The statement also said, “The company’s decision is in effect directed solely against Israeli citizens living in the settlements … and this amounts to grave, particularly outrageous discrimination.
“[It is] part of the long war being conducted by organizations (of which a clear majority are anti-Semitic) against the State of Israel in its entirety, and against Israelis living in settlements in particular.”
Palestinians, who envision a future independent state in the area in question, have welcomed Airbnb’s move. Most world powers view Israel’s construction of settlements in Judea and Samaria as a violation of international law, and Palestinians say it is wrong for companies to profit from them.
“Airbnb took a decision in the right direction to stop dealings with Israeli settlements, consistent with international legitimacy,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior official with the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.
In a statement emailed to Reuters on Tuesday, Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s global head of policy and communications, said: “Israel is a special place and our over 22,000 hosts are special people who have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to Israel.
“We understand that this is a hard and complicated issue and we appreciate everyone’s perspective.”
Airbnb’s delisting applies only to Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, where Palestinians have limited self-rule. It does not apply to Israel itself, nor does it apply to east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, territories that Israel has annexed.
Israel strongly objects to international boycotts, including boycotts of the settlements, viewing this as discriminatory.
A 2017 Israeli law empowers courts to award cash compensation to claimants who can prove they have been denied goods or services because of where they live.