I’m currently an AirBnB host to earn extra money (I don’t need the extra income). Recently AirBnB came out with a new policy not allowing Jews in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria to rent out their homes.
To me this seems like anti-Semitism and would like your advice on what to do? I’m debating about canceling all future reservations, so AirBnB doesn’t receive any income from my property.
We feel so privileged to have people like you reading our columns. You hold yourself to a high ethical standard and are willing to back up your convictions with action.
We’re not crazy about the term anti-Semitism because we don’t know how to define it, any more than we can define racism, misogynism or most other “isms.” Try defining these terms for yourself. You’ll see, it is not easy. It is far too easy to hurl labels and take refuge by claiming that you recognize it when you see it, as Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography in the 1964 Supreme Court Case. We are not fans of terms that change depending on the speaker, the day and whims and fancy.
However, what we can define is when one group is treated completely differently from all or most other groups. This is the standard that Airbnb (as well as the BDS movement, the United Nations and many others) meets. Israel is penalized for behavior that is excused, ignored or even lauded in others.
Israeli Jews living in Judea and Samaria may no longer rent out their homes and apartments on Airbnb. Yet Muslims, Christians, and citizens of the Palestinian Authority are free to continue doing so. The boycott targets only Jews.
What is more, Airbnb has listings in many contested regions such as Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Turkish-occupied Cyprus to name just two.
Many years ago, some of our children were in the audience at a business event whose speakers included Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream company. This was at a time when U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq. Our children came home and said that the ice-cream maker’s words were not only anti-American but actually wished our soldiers ill. That was the end of our purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream.
Despite the popularity of the dessert in our home, we don’t imagine that the company noticed our lack of support. It was less a statement to them than a statement to ourselves, though if enough people would do the same thing, the company’s bottom line would be affected. We simply could no longer enjoy that ice-cream. We are impacted by the things we say and do, even if nobody else is. For this reason, acting on principle has value even if nobody else will ever know. The point is, we know. And the action strengthens us.
On the other hand, we have problems with the political positions of so many companies and we have not treated them all similarly. We would just about have to homestead on a self-sufficient farm to do so. We do try to react when a company’s behavior is egregious rather than simply wrong and harmful. We may very well be inconsistent. But inconsistency is not hypocrisy.
Justin, we think that this is a call you have to make for yourself. If you are asking whether we think that Airbnb is singling out Jews and Israel in a way that they do not treat others, the answer is yes. If you will sleep better at night knowing that you are not partnering with them, then we salute you.
Live with conviction,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin