RE/MAX cashes in on Israel’s illegal settlements

Activism
on 19 Comments

The Israeli government’s recent announcement that it had authorized the building of another 1,000 settlement homes in East Jerusalem left the US government seeing red, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki calling the settlement activity “illegitimate” and “incompatible with the pursuit of peace.” But the announcement must have left the US-based real estate giant RE/MAX “seeing green,” ready to cash in on the sale and rental of more illegal settlement homes.

Look around your neighborhood at homes for sale and you will undoubtedly see RE/MAX’s ubiquitous signs sporting red, white and blue hot air balloons. What started out as a mom-and-pop office in Denver, Colorado in 1973 is now a corporate giant, with some 100,000 sales agents in over 90 countries. RE/MAX claims to have “the largest business volume in the world,” adding an average of 1.6 new franchises each day. Its yearly revenues surpass $150 million, derived from fees from its franchisee, annual dues from agents, broker fees, and franchise sales.

Among the 90 countries with RE/MAX franchises is in Israel. Since its entry into the Israeli market in 1995, RE/MAX has become the largest network of real estate agencies in Israel, boasting 100 branches and over 900 real estate agents in this small country roughly the size of New Jersey.

But here is the problem. RE/MAX Israel sells properties that are not only in Israel proper, but are also in occupied Palestinian lands of the West Bank. While Palestinian homes and olive groves are bulldozed to make way for new settlements, Israeli RE/MAX agents are doing business in all the major West Bank settlements, including Adam, Beit Arye, Beit El, Giva’at Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim, Oranit, Salit, Sha’arei Tikva and Zufim. In occupied East Jerusalem, the company markets and rents properties in the settlement neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa, Ramot, French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev.

RE/MAX Israel even has an office in Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement strategically located between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, breaking up the territorial continuity of any possible future Palestinian state. A UN Commission on Human Rights report stated that Ma’ale Adumim, along with the settlements Gush Etzion and Ariel, will effectively divide Palestinian territory into “cantons or Bantustans.”

The Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49) prohibits an occupying power from transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory. There are now over 500,000 Jewish settlers living the West Bank in violation of international law. Many are Jewish immigrants from around the world who take advantage of Israel’s 1950 Law of Return that grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while  denying that same right to Palestinians.

The settlements cater to young Israeli couples, first-time buyers who have been priced out of the expensive urban market and are enticed by subsidized settlement housing. RE/MAX Israel also caters to wealthy diaspora Jews wanting to relocate to Israel, or to have a second home there. Perusing  its website, you can find—for a cool $1 million—a 4,000 square-foot villa just minutes from Jerusalem, “at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac” in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. It comes with 6 bedrooms (including a 500 square-foot master bedroom suite with balcony), 2 kitchens, and a 2-car garage. Outside, the photos show a huge tiled patio and wooden deck with a breathtaking view, including beautifully landscaped gardens with waterfalls, fruit and olive trees.

Too expensive? Try a $300,000 condo in an East Jerusalem settlement (French Hill), boasting a designer kitchen with Italian granite. It’s on a high floor in a fully secured building, complete with a Shabbat elevator. Still too much? How about a $180,000 bargain studio apartment within walking distance of Hebrew University and Hadassa in a community of English-speaking immigrants?

While Palestinians slip even deeper into poverty, Israel’s real estate industry is booming. But Bernard Raskin, a Zimbabwe-born former academic from South Africa who sits atop RE/MAX Israel’s empire, laments the limited supply of land in this small country. He says that Israel’s real estate market is suffering from a severe shortage of housing stock available for purchase. That’s where the further expansion of illegal settlements comes in.

According to a report by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, by selling properties on Palestinian land, RE/MAX International is “directly contributing to adverse human rights impacts, such as the restrictions on freedom of movement that obstruct Palestinians’ access to land, which is often used for agricultural purposes, and arbitrary and unlawful interference with Palestinians’ privacy, family and home.” Selling property in settlements, the report concludes, “contributes to the commission of the international crime of transferring citizens of the Occupying Power onto occupied territory.”

RE/MAX International’s code of ethics states that its affiliates “shall undertake to eliminate any practice by real estate professionals in their community which could be damaging to the public”. The establishment of settlements is clearly damaging to the Palestinian sector of the public  and enables the continued violation of Palestinian human rights.

In November, the US-based peace group CODEPINK launched a campaign “Boycott RE/MAX: No Open Homes on Stolen Land”, asking the company to cut its ties with franchises involved in the sale or rental of settlement properties. The RE/MAX campaign is part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a call by Palestinian civil society to engage in non-violent activism to end these injustices by boycotting companies and institutions that are complicit in Israel’s occupation and its discriminatory practices against Palestinians.

CODEPINK sent a letter to RE/MAX CEO board chair David Liniger but got no response. So it encouraged its 200,000 supporters to call and email the Denver-based headquarters, which tried to distance itself from the practices of its Israeli franchises. “You wouldn’t call the head office of McDonalds if you didn’t like the hamburger you got at your local restaurant,” one RE/MAX telephone operator quipped, “so I don’t think you can hold us responsible for what someone is doing in Israel.”

But RE/MAX International does not just tolerate the actions of its Israeli affiliate, it directly profits from the the sale of homes in the occupied Palestinian territories. RE/MAX International lends its name, gives the stamp of approval, and provides start-up and ongoing training, technological resources, and advertising and marketing support to its franchisees. In return, it receives one percent of the revenue of sales and a flat fee per associate.

CODEPINK is also encouraging RE/MAX shareholders to contact the company. Peter Crow from Investor Relations told me that the RE/MAX office in the settlement was a “rogue office” that they were trying to shut down. But activists are not just concerned about the location of one office; their concern is RE/MAX complicity in the sale of Jewish-only settlement homes  and its relation to the larger reality of displacement, dispossession and oppression of Palestinians.

CODEPINK organizer Sophia Armen is planning the next phase of the Boycott RE/MAX: No Open House on Stolen Land campaign. “Since RE/MAX has offices all over the world, we’ll be organizing globally. Already, pro-Palestinian groups from India to South Africa are building efforts to picket RE/MAX offices and open houses until RE/MAX complies with international law,” says Armen. “As international people of conscience, we must harness our global power to ensure human rights for all.”

Authors note: Since the original publication of this article, RE/MAX has issued a press statement distancing the International RE/MAX from autonomous franchisees. It acknowledges “there is only one RE/MAX office remaining in the West Bank, and RE/MAX LLC is exploring possible options for this office.” It claims UN Report on the Palestinian territories distributed in 2013 contained factual errors, and that “there is only one RE/MAX office remaining in the West Bank, and RE/MAX LLC is exploring possible options for this office.”

To petition RE/MAX, sign here.

About Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

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19 Responses

  1. Kay24
    November 17, 2014, 5:52 pm

    Corporate greed and trying to make money off illegal settlements, which are not recognized by the world, and condemned by the US. They have no shame, despite seeing the victims of a brutal occupation being ruthlessly killed, and have their lands stolen, re-max does not hesitate to swarm into stolen lands, to make their dirty money.

  2. pabelmont
    November 17, 2014, 6:33 pm

    Kay24: I used the REMAX CONTACT form. Thanks for the link. I said it might be illegal and was certainly immoral. should I have threatened BDS?

    • Kay24
      November 17, 2014, 6:55 pm

      Pabelmont, I think very soon Remax will feel the effects of BDS. We can be sure the BDS movement will target Remax and make it feel those real estate deals are nothing but trouble, and not worth their greed.

      • amigo
        November 18, 2014, 7:12 am

        Kay, they have offices in Ireland but oddly enough , the red global map shows no offices in the UK.I sent them a message with the usual promise to inform my friends and asked them to pass along the concerns about them dealing with an Apartheid regime that steals other peoples lands and trades with illegal settlers.

        We will await a response.I will also pass this along to IPSC ,(Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign) so they can whisper a little louder in their ears.

        Thanks for the link.I sent a message there also.

      • Kay24
        November 18, 2014, 10:11 am

        Remax is around the world, there are many opportunities for activists to make their protests known. Plastering a poster on their signs would bring attention fast.

  3. Annie Robbins
    November 17, 2014, 9:05 pm

    “there is only one RE/MAX office remaining in the West Bank, and RE/MAX LLC is exploring possible options for this office.”

    ha! it’s not just where their office is, it’s location of the homes and office space are that they sell that matters most! if an office in jerusalem is selling homes in east jerusalem or any of the settlements, that matters. there are also offices inside israel that won’t sell homes in certain areas, except to jews. that’s a racist policy.

  4. Annie Robbins
    November 17, 2014, 9:10 pm

    i’m so excited code pink is initiating this campaign. there are thousands of offices all over this country and even more open houses with remax signs out front. ;) as i mentioned in a tweet the other day, people should know when they list their homes with @remax, indirectly, they are supporting apartheid and ethnic cleansing. and i used the #REMAX hashtag and twitter handle too. i’m sure they got the message. it’s time everyone got the message.

  5. Mooser
    November 18, 2014, 5:27 pm

    “Citizen” mentioned this to me in a comment about a week ago. I could scarcely believe it was possible. But here it is.

  6. just
    November 18, 2014, 6:54 pm

    so strange to see that balloon with Hebrew written on it in the WB?!?

    vultures.

  7. light2014
    November 21, 2014, 1:22 am

    George Deek, an Arab Israeli, addressing a conference in Oslo ,Norway in Sept. 2014.
    His family has lived in Jaffa for centuries.
    In this video he relates the experiences of his family especially his grandfather’s brave decision .
    He outlines the path hearts and minds should take to reach a better life for all sides.

    http://youtu.be/8m6ux-IeNo4

    • Walid
      November 21, 2014, 1:51 am

      You would like Deek’s massage, Light2014, he begins by saying the Palestinians were lied to by the Arabs when they told them to flee and his other opening line about 800,000 Jews having been chased from Arab countries. The rest of his pro-Zionist speech is of no consequence.

      Your man is the Vice-Ambassador for Israel. There was nothing brave about his grandfather’s decision; the man is a coward. Deek is bragging how an Israeli got his grandfather back into Israel and got him his job back at the electricity company, but he doesn’t say if he got him his house back.

      For anyone that doesn’t believe there are Arab Zionists, this is a good view to learn.

    • Annie Robbins
      November 21, 2014, 1:58 am

      there’s so much wrong with this speech i wouldn’t know where to begin. but did he just claim that last september (2014)
      “15 palestinians drowned in the sea trying to escape the claws of hamas” (19:15 min.)

      i missed that in the news. do you have a link?

    • Annie Robbins
      November 21, 2014, 2:25 am

      light, you can’t spam the site. i cleared this comment here because it was the first time i saw it. but that doesn’t mean you can post the same comment/video on every thread. stop spamming.

      • light2014
        November 21, 2014, 4:15 am

        This is not a game we are playing – to save a life one may repeat the for cry help more than once.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 21, 2014, 4:01 pm

        fair enough. but could you do it without copy pasting the very same video and commentary back to back on 10 threads? it’s not fair to our readers. perhaps a variation of the same idea couched in different words (and different videos [except for memri and other racist duplicitous sites of that nature] ) might solve the problem.

        p.s. your 10 paragraph rant including islamophobic stuff and discourse about Jihadist did not make the grade. you might want to respond in several concise shorter comments germane to the topic and that way some of your other commentary might make it thru moderation.

  8. light2014
    November 21, 2014, 4:38 am

    Most every article on this site is repetitious , a variation of the same idea couched in different
    words that always add up to – “the Palestinian Arabs are pure and blameless and the Israelis
    are always guilty”. This website is mostly pure spam, that is- its the same material endlessly served up from different angles and in different shapes but the elemental ideas are always the same monochromatic self -righteous hatred.
    This is not a debating team sport. Peoples lives are in the balance yet you have irreverent cutesy photos of people posing in t- shirts ,holding up cool signs . Their is more to life than being hip and exotic.

    • Annie Robbins
      November 21, 2014, 3:54 pm

      sorry you feel that way light. but, considering your opinion, it rather begs the question ‘why are you here?’ there are so many options on the internet. don’t you feel this is just a waste of your time?

      a wise man once said:

      This is not a game we are playing – to save a life one may repeat the cry for help more than once.

      ;)

    • eljay
      November 21, 2014, 3:59 pm

      >> light2014: Most every article on this site is repetitious , a variation of the same idea couched in different words that always add up to – “the Palestinian Arabs are pure and blameless and the Israelis are always guilty”. This website is mostly pure spam, that is- its the same material endlessly served up from different angles and in different shapes but the elemental ideas are always the same monochromatic self -righteous hatred.

      Most every word from a Zio-supremacist is repetitious, a variation of the same idea couched in different words that always add up to – “Jews are entitled to as large a supremacist state as possible and Palestinians can go f*ck themselves”. Their posts are pure spam, that is – they are the same material endlessly served up from different angles and in different shapes but the elemental ideas are always the same monochromatic self-righteous bigotry, immorality, supremacism and injustice.

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