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Airbnb won't operate in Israel's West Bank, prompting calls for a boycott

Airbnb won't operate in Israel's West Bank, prompting calls for a boycott
A mosque minaret in East Jerusalem, foreground, and the Palestinian city of Jabal al Baba in the West Bank in the background, on Nov. 17, 2018. Airbnb said it will no longer offer its home sharing services in the West Bank. (Thomas Coex / AFP/Getty Images)

Airbnb, the hugely popular home sharing operation, pulled its services from the disputed West Bank in Israel, prompting a call by a Jewish rights organization in Los Angeles for a worldwide boycott.

Airbnb announced its decision Monday to pull the plug on about 200 listings for housing in the West Bank, saying the company had to consider whether keeping the listings puts guests and hosts at risk and if the listings there contributed to “existing human suffering.”

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Israel took over the West Bank in a 1967 war. The settlements there are now considered illegal by international law, though Israel disputes this. Human Rights Watch released a report in 2016, criticizing businesses that operate in the West Bank, saying they contribute to the violation of Palestinian rights.

A representative for the Palestinian Authority on Monday praised the decision by Airbnb, according to published news reports.

But Airbnb’s move was quickly blasted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which responded by calling for a boycott of Airbnb by its 400,000 members and “Jews the world over.”

“We don’t expect Airbnb to be geo-political experts, but today’s draconian and unjust move, which only empowers extremists and terrorists, merits only one response — taking our community’s business elsewhere," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of the center’s Global Social Action Agenda, said in a statement.

Hier and Cooper called Airbnb’s decision “double standard anti-Semitism pure and simple,” and noted that Airbnb has listings in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, “which names schools and shopping centers in honor of mass murderers who have killed innocent civilians.”

Airbnb announced its move on its blogpost, saying it had struggled with the decision for a while and had spoken to experts on both sides of the debate.

“We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective,” Airbnb said in the blogpost. “This is a controversial issue. There are many strong views as it relates to lands that have been the subject of historic and intense disputes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Airbnb has deep respect for those views.”

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