Airbnb’s recent declaration that it will pull its listings from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, made headlines worldwide last week. The decision came a day before the release of a Human Rights Report (HRW) titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements.”
Airbnb undoubtedly tried to prepare itself for the storm of condemnation which would have come from human rights advocates had it not anticipated the HRW report.
Yet another company which was in focus of that report, Booking.com, has not done the same, and it is apparently trying to ride out the storm, in hope that it goes away.
HRW congratulated Airbnb for its decision:
“The decision by Airbnb to stop listing properties in unlawful Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a positive step that other global tourism companies should follow”.
This was a most obvious immediate reference to Booking.com. But Booking.com did not want to shoulder responsibility at all. In a morally debased display of cowardice, Booking.com told HRW that it provided a platform to advertise the properties, which was not the same as supporting settlements.
Let’s just consider that logic. Say a thief was advertising their stolen goods on a platform you provided, and you knew it was criminal, but you let them continue. By normal legal standards anywhere, you would be knowingly complicit in crime. Booking.com is trying to have the cake and eat it – saying it doesn’t (necessarily) support settlements, but on the other hand providing business for them. This is an untenable position. And this is not really new for Booking.com.
Notice for example this coverage by Electronic Intifada from 2017, “How Booking.com is aiding Israel’s war crimes”. The practice goes back years. Mieke Zagt writes:
Two years ago, I wrote an article exposing how Booking.com was offering hotel rooms in settlements that Israel has built in violation of international law. I also highlighted how the travel website was misleading clients by giving “Israel” as the address for hotels in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
A correction of sorts has been made since then. When I checked Booking.com earlier this month, I learned that it now gives “Israeli settlement” as the address for some of its accommodation listings.
The change was more than likely made in response to European Union guidelines.
Yet that does not alter the fact that Booking.com is still abetting Israel’s settlement activities – activities which constitute war crimes.
Jeff Handmaker, a law lecturer at Erasmus University in The Hague, is quoted, saying that “business activities cannot be disconnected from international law obligations.”
Handmaker argued that under the Dutch international crimes act, Booking.com could be sued for enabling violations of international law.
By continuing to offer services in illegal settlements, “Booking.com is – deliberately or not – actively facilitating the commission of war crimes,” he added.
Airbnb decision causes a storm amongst Israel supporters
So Booking.com is now coming into (long overdue) focus, and it clearly wants to hide in the bunker and claim to neither hear, see nor speak any evil.
Obviously, Booking.com is fearing the storm that has beset Airbnb in the wake of its declaration. Even though Airbnb declared only a selective withdrawal from some, but not all, illegal Israeli settlements, it has drawn ferocious response from the Israeli government, with ministers calling to punish the firm in all of Israel and internationally.
An Anti-Defamation League (ADL) letter to Airbnb accused the firm of giving in to anti-Semites. The ADL letter egregiously misrepresents the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which it considers the villain here (although BDS is not mentioned in the HRW report nor in Airbnb’s statement). BDS itself has noted Airbnb’s decision soberly as a “partial victory for human rights and accountability”, adding that “it is a first step in the right direction to end Airbnb’s profiting from Israel’s theft of indigenous Palestinians’ lands and natural resources.”
BDS noted how this was still very selective and in fact still contradictory, since Airbnb’s new position does not relate to all illegal Israeli settlements:
Airbnb, however, is contradicting its own statement by failing to delist properties in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City. All Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian — and Syrian — territory constitute war crimes under international law. East Jerusalem is no exception.
But for Israel, and for ADL, it doesn’t really matter. This is all “anti-Semitic”. Ironically, Jonathan Greenblatt’s ADL letter asks for consistency:
You wrote that Airbnb will “remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”
1. Which listings does this cover?
2. Does it include listings in the Golan Heights?
3. Does it include listings in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, that are in its Old City or over the Green Line?
The irony of demanding such consistency is probably completely lost on Greenblatt. He is suggesting that nothing should be boycotted here and is sounding like a true agent of the Israeli government.
Liberal Zionists such as Peter Beinart, who support a boycott of settlements, are not accepting this line. Beinart tweeted:
“Here’s a thought. Take the ADL’s staff to the West Bank. See what it’s like for people to live for a half-century as stateless non-citizens, without free movement, due process or the right to vote under military law. Then start living up to your mission to fight for human rights”.
When Beinart was challenged by a commenter who said that “ADL is there to advocate for Jews”, Beinart responded by saying “read its mission statement.” ADL’s mission statement says:
“To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all…”
So Greenblatt is clearly very selective himself on which part of the mission he takes up. And his anti-Semitism accusations are nothing but hysterical. David Rosenberg was addressing this in his Haaretz opinion the other day:
Let’s start with the anti-Semitism accusations, which are absurd but trotted out so often in the context of BDS that you would think that it is really an issue […]
In adhering to BDS’ call, Airbnb made a political/business decision, which is that (if you look at its waffly official statement) it won’t offer listings that have a “direct connection” to a political dispute or contribute “to existing human suffering.”
Airbnb didn’t say it wouldn’t do business with Jews. In fact, it does a lively business in Israel and as of this writing, even in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights (which Israel has formally annexed).
The distinction Airbnb is making is between occupier and occupied, not between Jew and gentile.
Booking.com is squarely on the settler’s side
But Booking.com doesn’t want to move in any direction. It wants to stay put in the settlements and have all this go away.
Just as the settlers are saying “we’re not going anywhere”, this issue is not going anywhere either, even if Booking.com wants it to disappear. Booking.com is now inevitably embroiled in a fierce debate about war crimes and accountability, and the firm is looking worse by the minute – because of Airbnb’s decision; because of the hysterical response to Airbnb from Israel and its apologists; because prominent Israel supporters also oppose Israel’s war against Airbnb.
It is not really helping that Public Security (and Hasbara) minister Gilad Erdan, is promoting Booking.com as an alternative to Airbnb; it is only further branding Booking.com as the new darling of the settlers. Booking.com, in its coyness and silence, is thus inevitably placing itself on the side of the ultranationalist criminality and immorality that all this is ultimately about.
It is taking the side of the illegal settlers, it is choosing to profit from war crime rather than apply social responsibility and legal integrity. Booking.com is making itself the next major target for customer boycott. That storm is surely coming.