Jewish Americans sue Airbnb
Group of Jewish Americans sue Airbnb in Delaware, say its decision to Judea and Samaria listings amounts to religious discrimination.
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Elad Benari, כ"א בכסלו תשע"ט, 11/29/2018
A group of Jewish Americans on Wednesday sued Airbnb Inc. in a US federal court following the home rental website’s decision last week to remove listings for about 200 homes in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
The plaintiffs accuse the company of religious discrimination, according to Reuters.
The 18 plaintiffs include Israeli-American families and individuals who said they own or wish to rent affected homes and who accuse Airbnb of “redlining” Jewish-owned properties while letting Muslims and Christians rent their homes, said the news agency.
The plaintiffs argue this effectively left Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over Judea and Samaria.
In response, Airbnb said in a statement quoted by Reuters, “We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective.”
The complaint was filed in federal court in Delaware, where Airbnb is incorporated, and which the plaintiffs said has jurisdiction over the San Francisco-based company’s alleged violation of US laws against housing discrimination.
“Airbnb has made a religion- and nationality-based decision about who can list,” Robert Tolchin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview. “It decided in the United States, ‘We will not list for Jews in the West Bank.’ It should be equal access for all.”
The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief and unspecified damages, including for lost rental income, according to Reuters.
Airbnb sparked outrage when it announced last week that it would remove home listings in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) on Monday blasted Airbnb’s decision as “disgraceful and miserable” and demanded that the site cancel the decision.
He instructed his ministry staff to formulate immediate measures to limit the company's activity throughout the country and instructed ministry management to implement a special program to encourage tourism and accommodation in vacation apartments throughout Judea and Samaria.
Similarly, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations criticized the decision and said it violates the principles of open commerce and the spirit and letter of several federal and state laws prohibiting discriminatory practices, including boycotts.
On the other side, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority (PA) chief negotiator, praised Airbnb’s decision.
“While we believe that this is an initial positive step, it would have been crucial for Airbnb to follow the position of international law that Israel is the occupying power and that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute war crimes,” he said.
A separate lawsuit challenging Airbnb’s policy was filed in a Jerusalem court on November 22.
The Delaware case differed by claiming that “Airbnb is violating Americans’ rights, and this can’t be argued in an Israeli court under Israeli law,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview.