Ashton Kutcher and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky were just getting settled into their chairs on the stage of LA’s Orpheum theatre when I unfurled my Airbnb out of Settlements banner. “From Los Angeles to Palestine it is time for Airbnb to end their role in displacement,” I shouted. Upon reaching the stage, I continued, “Airbnb claims to have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination, yet, they are supporting Israel’s systematic discrimination against Palestinians.” Ashton Kutcher came over to me, introduced himself, and extended his hand. I greeted him warmly in return, telling him that I was there on behalf of CODEPINK to ask Airbnb to stop listing homes in illegal Israeli settlements in violation of international law. Ashton asked me if he could tell me about why Airbnb is important to him. I replied that first I would tell him (and the audience) what Airbnb is doing to Palestinians.
Outside the conference, hundreds of labor rights and affordable housing advocates were demanding a “Fair Airbnb.” They were calling on Airbnb to agree to tougher city regulations for short-term housing rentals to prevent landlords from continuing to repurpose affordable housing units into illegal hotels. Jonah Breslau, the consumer outreach coordinator for Unite Here Local 11 explained why the union was upset with Airbnb: “We see first hand the displacement caused when landlords kick out long time tenants to turn apartments into illegal hotel rooms. We aren’t against home sharing in general, we just want there to be reasonable rules to make sure that it doesn’t exacerbate Los Angeles’ housing crisis.” According to a city planning report Los Angeles already has only 2.7% housing vacancy, the lowest of any major US city.
Kutcher’s talk with Brian Chesky was part of a three day event in downtown LA titled “Airbnb Open: A Festival of Hosting”. The event promoted Airbnb as helping people share their lives and homes to increase their opportunities to travel. However, with at least 84% of Airbnb hosts in LA listing two or more properties, the majority of Airbnb’s business is not part of a local sharing economy but rather a large profit economy that comes at the at the expense of low income families, Palestinians, and anyone else who gets in the way.
Since January 2016, the Stolen Homes Coalition has been asking Airbnb to stop listing homes in Israeli settlements. The coalition includes the American Muslims for Palestine, CODEPINK, Friends of Sabeel – North America, Jewish Voice for Peace, Sum of Us, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and the US Palestinian Community Network. In March 2016 they delivered over 140,000 signatures to Airbnb offices around the world. In June they delivered over 150,000 signatures to Fidelity, one of the biggest investors in Airbnb. Yet, Airbnb has still not ended their complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. In September 2016 Airbnb adopted a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination by hosts. The company hired prominent advisors, including former US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., to help them develop the comprehensive policy. However, the policy does address Israel’s state structured discrimination against Palestinians where settlements are designated as Jewish-only.
The common theme between Airbnb’s refusal to remove settlements listings and attempts to evade city regulations on short term housing rentals is the company preferencing profits over people. As I stood on the stage next to him, Ashton stated that, “[Airbnb] is about bringing people together, and about loving one another.” Further exacerbating an already dire affordable housing crisis and contributing to Palestinian home demolitions, freedom of movement restrictions, and state sponsored discrimination is not working towards the harmonious loving Airbnb world that Ashton envisions.