The NGOs and Funders Behind Airbnb’s BDS Policy
On November 19, 2018, Airbnb issued a press release announcing it was “removing listings” in “Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank.” The company provided no details as to how it defines “Israeli settlements” or the “Occupied West Bank” and whether its decision relates to Jerusalem, and in particular, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This change in policy was a clear result of a coordinated and well-financed campaign targeting the company by NGOs involved in BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns against Israel, led by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), in concert with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), at least three Israeli groups, and the Palestinian Authority. The funders responsible for this campaign include a number of European governments as well as the US-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Airbnb faced an intensive multi-year attack and threats of being included in the forthcoming UN HRC “blacklist,” boycotts, and other forms of negative publicity. Indeed, the company acknowledged that offering listings in West Bank “settlements” was not illegal, meaning that its decision was the result of political pressure.
The company provided five vague criteria used in the process of making this decision:
“1. Recognize that each situation is unique and requires a case-by-case approach.
2. Consult with a range of experts and our community of stakeholders.
3. Assess any potential safety risks for our hosts and guests.
4. Evaluate whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering.
5. Determine whether the existence of listings in the occupied territory has a direct connection to the larger dispute in the region.”
Airbnb did not disclose details of how these criteria were implemented, how it analyzed these factors, nor identify the supposed “experts” and “community of stakeholders” consulted.
Airbnb titled its release “Listings in Disputed Regions” and claims it operates in 191 countries. This anodyne language masks the clearly discriminatory purpose of its policy in bowing to pressure from the BDS campaign. Airbnb has thousands of listings in occupied territories (Turkish Occupied Cyprus, Tibet, etc…) and in areas of extreme violence and human suffering. Yet, the company has decided to solely apply this policy to approximately 100+ Jewish-owned apartments under location criteria not specified by the company. Moreover, the apartments allegedly at issue represent .005% of Airbnb’s 4 million listings. In contrast, listings in China (including Tibet) comprise 4%.
The role of NGOs and their funder/enablers in this discriminatory political campaign is central. The Israeli NGO known as Kerem Navot, which has partnered with HRW in a number of BDS initiatives, is funded by the European Union (via the Palestinian NGO ARIJ); Rosa Luxemburg Foundation – the funding arm of far-left Die Linke political party (Germany); Diakonia (Sweden); and Broederlijk Delen (Belgium). Who Profits, an Israeli NGO that lists targets for global BDS campaigns, is funded by Church of Sweden (Sweden), Trocaire (Ireland), CCFD-Terre Solidaire (France), HEKS-EPER (Switzerland), DanChurchAid (Denmark), Diakonia (Sweden), Medico International (Germany), and Fagforbunet (Norway).
Rockefeller Brothers Fund is providing grants to a number of these NGOs leading this BDS campaign, including HRW, JVP, SumOfUs, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Who Profits.
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- HRW has been campaigning on this issue for at least two years.
- On November 20, 2018, published the 65-page “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements” (in partnership with Kerem Navot), alleging that Airbnb (and Booking.com) “facilitat[e] Israel’s unlawful transfer of its citizens to the settlements.” The timing of Airbnb’s announcement indicates that it was attempting to deflect negative publicity from HRW’s report.
- HRW has been a leader in BDS campaigns for 17 years, beginning with the 2001 NGO Forum of the UN Durban conference. This is at least HRW’s fifth publication promoting BDS since 2016.
- Co-authored the November 2018 report with HRW.
- Who Profits posted a profile of Airbnb, listing its owners, investors, contact information, and details on “listings on Airbnb’s website …in … illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.”
- Airbnb was also featured in the NGO’s October 2017 report and accompanying political campaign, “Touring Israeli Settlements Business and Pleasure for the Economy of Occupation.”
- SumOfUs is a “community of people” that “exists to put bad corporations back in their place.” According to its website, SomeOfUs receives funding from Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
- Sum of Us created a fake Aibnb listing for a property located over the 1949 Armistice line. The listing makes numerous false claims regarding “stolen” water, land, and olive trees. The listing further absurdly claims, under “house rules,” that “all those would could be perceived as Arabs must be accompanied by armed guards while in the Settlement, for their own protection.” The “reviews” section of the listing includes those featuring #BDS. Another review states “I think it disgusting that you would associate your business with land and home stealing, murdering arsehole.”
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
- In November 2016, produced a video targeting Airbnb, featuring Manal, Ahed, and Bassem Tamimi (The Tamimis are an activist family with an international profile, notorious for their promotion of violence and antisemitism. Manal Tamimi regularly utilizes virulently antisemitic and violent rhetoric and imagery on social media, Ahed was convicted of assault and incitement to terror, and Bassem, who has posted virulent antisemtic statements on social media, was convicted in 2012 of encouraging Palestinian youths to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Other close members of the family have been involved in murder and suicide bombings of Israelis, including the Sbarro suicide attack in Jerusalem.)
- On November 19, 2018, published a press release “Airbnb commits to removing rentals in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”
- On January 25, 2016, CODEPINK published “Airbnb, You can’t Hide, You Profit From Apartheid.”
- The article details an event on January 22, 2016, in which CODEPINK and JVP brought 40 people to protest at the Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco to “pressure the company to stop listing vacation rentals in illegal Israeli settlements.”
- On November 19, 2016, CODEPINK published “CODEPINK protests Ashton Kutcher’s Promotion of Airbnb” featuring a video of a CODEPINK activist interrupting an Airbnb event with Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher stated that Airbnb is focused on “bringing people together…in a peaceful unity that does not have borders.”
- In November 2016, CODEPINK featured a video of individuals protesting Airbnb for “listing homes in illegal settlements. The protest took place in Nabi Saleh and included members of the Tamimi family.
Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)
- On its website, FOSNA states that “Since January , the Stolen Homes campaign has been pressuring Airbnb to comply with international law by removing its listing within illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.”
- Created a graphic (November 2018) sponsored by HRW and Kerem Navot.
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR)
- On November 19, 2018 tweeted “Another BDS WIN!!! @Airbnb says it will remove all listings in Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land, following a joint BDS campaign by USCPR, AMP, CODEPINK, FOSNA, JVP, SumOfUs, and USCPN. People power works! https://reut.rs/2FuKUQZ “
- USCPR’s website states that “there are 13,000 Airbnb listings in Israel, though investigations have revealed that many of the properties are actually located in settlements built on stolen Palestinian land.” The November 2018 HRW and Kerem Navot report includes 139 of such claimed properties.
- In the November 19, 2018 press release featured on JVP’s website, USCPR’s Director of Grassroots Organizing Ramah Kudaimi states “This moment underscores the importance of continuing to push boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns…”
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)
- On November 19, 2018, tweeted “This is huge! AMP is proud to have participated in the coalition Stolenhomes.org to push for this. #bds.”
- Includes Airbnb under its list of “AMP BDS CAMPAIGNS.”
- Features JVP’s “We Can’t Live There. So Don’t Go There” video on its website, stating that “AMP is a member of the #StolenHomes coalition and since January the campaign has been demanding Airbnb comply with international law and top listing homes in illegal Israeli settlements in violation of international law.”
Say No to Stolen Homes (Coalition of US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, SumOfUs, American Muslims for Palestine), US Palestinian Community Network, CODEPINK, Friends of Sabeel North America, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Uplift)
- The website features a petition asking Airbnb to “stop listing vacation rentals in israeli settlements, all of which were built on stolen Palestinian land and deemed illegal under international law.” The petition has more than 150,000 signatures (as of 10:15am on November 20, 2018).
- On June 3, 2016, hosted a protest targeting Fidelity Investments, one of Airbnb’s investors. CODEPINK’s page advertising for the event states that “Airbnb displaces people from their homes, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Palestine.”
- On January 7, 2016, +972 published an article “Airbnb lets you vacation in illegal West Bank settlements.”
- The article explains how +972 created a fake Airbnb account for an American Palestinian man, Haled, who claimed he could not rent a number of properties, alleging “thinly veiled discrimination along ethnic or national lines.” He was able to rent one in the settlement of Tekoa, but complained that there would be a security check at the entrance of the town.