In order to deprive 200 Jewish families of the ability to rent out their homes, Airbnb incurred the wrath of the U.S. and Israeli political systems, created a competitor, and endangered its IPO.
When Airbnb announced in mid-November 2018 that it would delist Jewish homes in Judea & Samaria (the “West Bank”), the move met with cheers from anti-Israel activists, who had worked for years to pressure Airbnb.
The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (fka U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation) is an umbrella group for numerous anti-Israel activists and groups supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. USCPR is one of the most extreme anti-Israel groups, as we have documented numerous times.
USCPR described the pressure campaign on Airbnb in a recent posting:
In the case of Airbnb, USCPR supporters, members of our coalition, and national partners worked for more than two years to design and implement the campaign that ultimately led Airbnb to announce the pull out….
Back in 2016, news broke that Airbnb was listing properties in illegal, Jewish-only settlements and actively allowing discrimination against Palestinians. Appalled at this news, several groups around the US spoke out.
USCPR took the lead in convening these groups, mobilizing days of actions in cities across the country, coordinating strategy sessions, and delivering petitions—signed by all of you—to key Airbnb investors like Fidelity Investments. After two years of sustained pressure, this leadership and the efforts of the StolenHomes Coalition finally paid off when Airbnb announced its decision to pull out of illegal settlements.
While the boycott of Jews met with cheers from the far left, it met widespread condemnation. You can read about some of the reaction in these posts:
- Airbnb to boycott Jews living in the ‘West Bank’
- Israeli company files discrimination claim under NY and CA law against Airbnb over ‘West Bank’ policy
- Airbnb’s hope for a 2019 public offering could be endangered by its boycott of Jews in the ‘West Bank’
Airbnb is being challenged by an Israeli startup hosting website created after Airbnb’s announcement, as The Times of Israel report:
The announcement by vacation rental operator Airbnb last month that it would no longer host listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank has galvanized two US-born men into setting up an alternative service, called OlehStay, that welcomes “any listing, anywhere in Israel.”
The website, set up by Noam Beltran, a current student of Yeshiva University in New York, and Joseph Sokol, an immigrant to Israel, is an Israel-based home-renting site that went live Monday, having been created just 10 days after Airbnb announced its decision.
“Our website was created specifically in response to Airbnb’s decision,” said Sokol in an email interview with The Times of Israel. “We are on a mission to be the alternative Airbnb in Israel and eventually around the world.”
Since the announcement, the pressure has grown, including a small but growing list of municipalities condemning Airbnb. As the pro-Israel StandWithUs reports, Surfside, Florida Passes Resolution on December 11, 2018: Airbnb is in Violation of its Contract with Town:
StandWithUs commends the Town of Surfside, Florida for its unanimous vote to adopt a Resolution introduced by its Vice-Mayor Daniel Gielchinsky declaring that #Airbnb is in default of its contract with the town on December 11, 2018.
The Surfside Commission declared that Airbnb is in material violation of its agreement, which prohibits Airbnb from enacting a discriminatory boycott. Surfside condemned Airbnb for its anti-Semitic policy of discrimination against Jewish property owners in the West Bank of Israel and urged Airbnb to reconsider its policy and abandon the boycott.
Vice-Mayor Gielchinsky calls on other local, county and state elected officials and governing bodies to adopt similar resolutions right away. South Florida is a vital part of Airbnb’s business and has an immensely strong voice in this conversation. “Let’s make South Florida a shining light and beacon of truth, good and love prevailing over hatred, evil and hypocrisy throughout the world!”
Mayor Francis Suarez will be introducing a resolution in the City of Miami. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has already pledged to take strong action against Airbnb within his first few weeks in office.
Roz Rothstein, CEO StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization, praises the resolution. “BDS is a campaign disguised as antisemitism. We have a responsibility to speak up against hate and condemn this actions Airbnb from city hall to the Governor’s mansion. We applaud the efforts of the Vice Mayor and Governor elect Desantis. We urge other cities, counties and states to follow their lead.”
The City of West Hollywood is scheduled to consider a resolution against Airbnb next week. But those small towns and cities are not Airbnb’s biggest problem,.
As described in a recent Forbes article, Airbnb Boycotted And Sued For Discrimination Following Israel Settlement Ban, Airbnb may have violated state-level and federal anti-boycott legislation:
Airbnb’s decision to remove 200 listings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank is creating a growing headache for a company that’s no stranger to wading into politics with its rental listings.
Several U.S. states are now researching whether the global travel company has broken state laws by prohibiting the listings. Some U.S. cities are calling for a boycott. Airbnb faces multiple lawsuits over alleged discrimination, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized the move during a keynote at the Israeli American Council conference on November 30, saying Airbnb’s actions had “no place” in the market. Last week, a prominent rabbi took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post, titled “Airbnb: Anti-Semitic Bed & Breakfast.”
Opposition, though, has been vocal and mounting. In late November, the city of Beverly Hills passed a resolution calling for a global boycott of the travel company. Another tourist hub, Miami, is considering a similar resolution. Airbnb now faces lawsuits in both the U.S. and in Israel over its decision. Honest Reporting, an organization which tracks Israel in the media, also filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Antiboycott Compliance and asked for it to review whether Airbnb’s decision violated U.S. laws prohibiting boycotts of Israel. (The OAC didn’t respond to request for comment from Forbes.)
In Florida, governor elect Ron DeSantis reportedly said he was going to reconsider state policy that allows employees to stay at Airbnb rentals while on business travel. Current Florida governor Rick Scott’s press office told Forbes that he remains an ally of Israel and “will review what additional steps we should take.” Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner, sent a letter to the state’s investment policy board to determine whether Airbnb’s action breaks state law against aiding boycotts against Israel.
Illinois may be Airbnb’s most significant current problem. As The Free Beacon reports, Illinois Board Cites Airbnb for Violating Law Over Israel Boycotts:
An independent board in Illinois voted Wednesday afternoon to notify the online lodging website Airbnb that it is violating state laws barring the economic boycott of Israel, according to sources tracking the ongoing meetings….
Illinois on Wednesday became the first state to take firm action against Airbnb, when the Illinois Investment Policy Board Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions, which includes appointees of the governor and representatives of the state pension board, unanimously voted to notify Airbnb that it is in violation of state laws.
Shortly after, the full board also unanimously voted to notify Airbnb.
Airbnb now has 90 days to respond before it is blacklisted in Illinois.
One former top Illinois state official who was involved in creating anti-BDS legislation mandating Illinois divest from any company backing Israel boycotts, the nation’s first, told the Washington Free Beacon that a blacklisting by the state could negatively impact Airbnb when it goes public in the near future.
“This is a watershed moment for anti-BDS laws in America,” the source said. “If I’m an investor looking at a possible IPO next year, this is very worrisome.”
Bloomberg Law also notes Airbnb’s IPO Complicated by West Bank Listings Backlash(paywall):
Illinois became the first state to admonish Airbnb Inc. for delisting Jewish-owned lodgings on the West Bank, determining the home-sharing company had violated a law barring state investments in companies that boycott Israel.
Additional states will likely follow Illinois’ lead, potentially complicating Airbnb’s expected public offering of its shares, said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of international law at the George Mason University’s law school.
The Illinois Investment Policy Board (IIPB) Dec. 12 unanimously affirmed a statement finding Airbnb’s ban on lodging listings in the disputed West Bank doesn’t comply with the state’s law against aiding the Boycott, Divestment or Sanction (BDS) movement. BDS is a global campaign seeking Israel’s withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The IIPB’s action represents the first step in a process that could require Illinois to divest any state funds, including public retirement system funds, in Airbnb. The board gave Airbnb a deadline of March 13 to respond before it takes final action. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) applauded the quick action by IIPB, which responded to his request for an investigation. In a letter to IIPB, Rauner called Airbnb’s Nov. 19 decision to delist about 200 properties in the West Bank “abhorrent and discriminatory.”…
While Illinois is the first state to take such action, “it is certainly not the last,” said Kontorovich, an authority on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He predicted Florida, Texas, New Jersey and Arizona would quickly follow. A spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told Bloomberg Law the state is reviewing Airbnb’s decision.
“Illinois was the first state to pass such a law, so it often acts first,” Kontorovich said. “Decisions it reaches about pension policies relating to discrimination against Israel are usually echoed and copied by other states with similar laws. So it’s a leader in this process.”
Kontorovich predicted the mounting pressure could complicate Airbnb’s plans to become a publicly traded company. A wholesale boycott by state retirement systems could have a harmful impact on valuation, he said.
“I think the company is hoping this is all going to blow over and they can weather the crisis and everyone will forget about it,” he said. “But I think as more states adopt more measures, this is going to get more costly than they expected.”
Potential problems with the IPO is something we predicted on November 28:
Airbnb hopes to have a public offering in 2019. That’s going to be difficult as the number of lawsuits and investigations rise. It will present a pressure point for pro-Israel advocates. Who will be the underwriters, and how can they justify taking public a company that openly discriminates against Jews?
Perhaps Airbnb saw staying off the UNHRC’s blacklist as a better IPO strategy, but that ignores domestic U.S. politics which is where Airbnb will make its Initial Public Offering.
Politicians will jump on board the anti-Airbnb train, because they know that the “Israeli Lobby” is the American people. And if Airbnb were to be excluded from the Israeli market in retaliation for discriminating against Jews, Airbnb would take a serious economic hit, far more so than the symbolic UNHRC blacklist.
Airbnb acts like it is invulnerable and can wait this out. That may turn out to be a serious miscalculation.
Airbnb may not be worried, however, because it is considering a “non-traditional” IPO:
Chesky is said to be interested in making Airbnb’s public offering more than merely a financing event and is drawn to any approach that makes his IPO less traditional (like perhaps granting Airbnb hosts stock).
A direct listing for Airbnb, which was last valued at over $30 billion, would be another revealing moment in the Wall Street-Silicon Valley war. One of the highest profile tech companies in the world would be declaring that it doesn’t need bankers the way that bankers think they do.
Airbnb “could probably successfully do a direct listing,” said Miller. “I think they’re a decent candidate for it — but again, they’re the rare case.”
Airbnb, whose new chief financial officer hasn’t even started yet, very well could need to wait until 2020 for its IPO. But it has a few things that fit the direct listing profile to a tee: The company, as of now, does not need to raise any money as it would in a typical IPO. It has a trademark, global brand that gives it enormous visibility. It’s guaranteed to get coverage from research analysts either way.
That may not help Airbnb escape the backlash.
Airbnb is paying the price for capitulating to the anti-Israel pressure campaign. But it’s taken a strange twist. After the pushback, Airbnb has stopped taking new listings from Palestinians in the West Bank, according to a report from the anti-Zionist Mondoweiss website;
Mondoweiss has learned that Airbnb is currently preventing Palestinian hosts from listing their homes in the occupied West Bank.
When attempting to list a property for rent in a Palestinian city in the West Bank, users are denied by the website, and given a message saying “country code is invalid.”
Mondoweiss attempted to post a listing in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus, and received the same notification….
But when speaking with an Israeli Airbnb customer representative, the rep told a Mondoweiss reporter that the issue was not with the lack of a formal address for the listing, but that their listing in the city of Bethlehem was not being approved because they were in the West Bank.
When asked if it was a possible website glitch, and that Palestinian listings were accidentally being affected due to their proximity to settlements, the representative said “it is not an issue with the algorithm.”
Mondoweiss spoke to a customer service rep in the US, and received a similar answer: any listings coming out of the West Bank were not currently being approved by Airbnb’s website — regardless if the listing is in a Palestinian city, or in an Israeli settlement.
I emailed Airbnb’s press office seeking confirmation or denial of the Mondoweiss report, but have received not answer. If accurate, it’s just another example of Western anti-Israel activists shooting real Palestinians in the foot.
In order to deprive 200 Jewish families of the ability to rent out their homes, Airbnb incurred the wrath of the U.S. and Israeli political systems, created a competitor, and endangered its IPO. Not a smart move, but Airbnb shows no signs of backing down.
That is another serious miscalculation.DONATE
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