Let's talk about that antisemitism at Airbnb

This has been one of the more disturbing stories to pop up recently, at least for me. Regular readers already know that I’m a big fan of the gig economy, whether it’s ride-sharing outfits like Uber and Lyft or home-sharing options such as Airbnb. But that company, in particular, made an ill-advised move recently by deciding to throw in with the Israel BDS movement and shut down listings by hosts with properties in the West Bank. This has the government of Israel looking for solutions through the United States government. (Reuters)

Israel plans to consult with the U.S. government over a decision by home-renting company to remove listings in Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday.

Palestinians who want to establish an independent state in territory including the West Bank that Israel captured in a 1967 war welcomed the San Francisco-based firm’s move, announced on Monday and taking effect in the coming days. Israel called it a “wretched capitulation” to boycotters.

“We will approach the U.S. government because 25 U.S. states have sanctions against American companies that boycott Israel,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said on Israeli Army Radio.

There’s a bit of a conflict for me in these recent developments because the situation pits aspects of small government conservatism against our need to remain staunch allies of Israel and the Jewish people. On the former count, we should always be uncomfortable when the government begins stepping in and telling private business owners how to operate if they are providing safe and legal goods or services. From that perspective, Airbnb’s decision could be viewed as something they should be allowed to do, no matter how offensive it may be, and allow consumers to vote with their wallets in response.

But that doesn’t answer the question as to why they would make such a move. Even if you’re able to look past the obvious antisemitism inherent in such a policy (and you shouldn’t), this is simply stupid. Any time a company decides to begin making policy which dips a toe into hotly contested social and political issues they inevitably wind up ticking off half of their potential market. Call it a principled stand if you like, but it’s bad business.

As to how legal or illegal this may be, that’s a complicated question. Airbnb technically can’t impose a “boycott” on the West Bank hosts because they can’t stop them from leasing out their property as they see fit. All they can do is cut off access to their platform, preventing advertising and transactions through their online application. But it still hurts the property owners because the app is so popular and often the first place travelers will look for a room to rent for the evening. So would various state sanctions apply here? I suppose Airbnb is engaging in something resembling a boycott, but it’s not against all Jews or even all of Israel. Just the people owning property in a particular area. I’ll leave that question for the lawyers and judges to sort out.

But still, as I said above, this is a monumentally stupid move on the part of Airbnb. And if they are facing accusations of antisemitism now they have nobody to blame but themselves.

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David Strom 1:31 PM on September 30, 2022