If you wanted a statement on a controversial issue regarding Israel obscured by events, the date you would choose for it is the day of Israeli elections. Everyone is now gazing at the apparent results, which indicate a major win for Netanyahu’s Likud. Who will notice the fact, that Airbnb just officially declared that it will continue doing business in illegal Israeli settlements, in reversal of its announced decision from November to pull out of these settlements in the occupied West Bank?
Airbnb has made maddening rhetorical somersaults in order to both have its settlement cake and eat it too. First it announced its decision to pull out, preempting a Human Rights Watch report on this dirty business (the report also cited Booking.com, which pleaded the 5th). Then Airbnb seemed to reverse its decision following meetings with Israeli government officials, calling the issue “complex and emotional”, offering contradictory statements that were neither here nor there.
Meanwhile, in January, an Amnesty International report about this business pattern came out, emphasizing the brokers’ complicity in war crimes, also bringing into focus other companies such as TripAdvisor and Expedia.
After the announced decision to pull out in November, Israeli lawyers filed a class action suit against Airbnb. And yesterday (Tuesday), Airbnb caved in to these pressures: “Airbnb will not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform,” the company said in a news release, as reported by Al Jazeera.
The company said the agreement settled all legal actions brought by hosts and potential hosts who went to court.
Airbnb is now trying to whitewash its crime by charity. Stating that it “will take no profits from this activity in the region”, the company claims that profit generated from its listings in the West Bank will be donated to non-profit groups dedicated to humanitarian aid in various parts of the world.
But this is really like Pilate ritually washing his hands. Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch:
Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings, as they’ve promised to do, does nothing to remedy the ‘human suffering’ they have acknowledged that their activities cause. By continuing to do business in settlements, they remain complicit in the abuses settlements trigger.
Airbnb has had its chance. It initially attempted to avert bad PR by declaring its ‘good intention’ to pull out of (some) settlements, but then didn’t follow through. It caved into political and, let us not forget, economic pressure, and decided that it was not worth the trouble. Throughout the process since the initial declaration, it has been demonstrating weakness and cowardice, manifested in weak and contradictory statements, until it now officially declared that it will not realize its intention.
And it did this on the day where it would be least noticed, as everyone is looking at the Israeli elections. Airbnb, with all its earlier declared good intentions, will remain knowingly complicit in war-crimes, and this process leaves it as a symbol of surrender to Israeli criminality.
If Airbnb was not a major target for popular boycott, this chain of events now places it front and center as such. No charity actions will whitewash this crime.
H/t Nasser Butt