By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister called on Wednesday for a boycott of Airbnb and promoted one of its rivals, escalating the government’s response to the home-rental company’s decision to delist Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“I call today on all those who support Israel and oppose discriminatory boycotts: they should cease using Airbnb and turn to other services,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told a diplomatic conference hosted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“By the way, Booking.com is a great service,” added Erdan, the point-man in Israeli government efforts to combat pro-Palestinian boycotts.
Airbnb said on Monday it would remove some 200 settlement listings after hearing criticism from people who “believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced”.
Palestinians who want to establish an independent state taking in the West Bank have welcomed the San Francisco-based firm’s move.
“Airbnb took a decision in the right direction to stop dealings with Israeli settlements, consistent with international legitimacy,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior official with the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters.
“Erdan’s incitement comes in the course of continued attempts by the Israeli extremist government to intimidate companies, parties and individuals who try to try to take good decisions that agree with international resolutions.”
A spokesman for Airbnb declined comment on the Israeli minister’s remarks. In a statement emailed to Reuters on Tuesday, Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s global head of policy and communications, said: “Israel is a special place and our over 22,000 hosts are special people who have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to Israel.
“We understand that this is a hard and complicated issue and we appreciate everyone’s perspective.”
Airbnb’s delisting applies only to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self rule under Israeli military occupation. It does not apply to Israel itself, or East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, territories Israel has annexed without international recognition. Israel withdrew settlers from another Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip, more than a decade ago.
Human Rights Watch hailed Airbnb’s delisting decision and, in a report on Tuesday, called on Booking.com to follow suit.
Booking.com did not immediately response to Reuters emails seeking its response.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, addressing Wednesday’s conference separately, backed Erdan’s call to boycott Airbnb and suggested Israel also deploy its own anti-discrimination laws.
Israel has said it would turn to the Trump administration and could back lawsuits against Airbnb within U.S. states that have legislated against anti-Israel boycotts.
In Israel, one 2017 law empowers courts to award cash compensation to claimants who prove they have been denied goods or services because of where they live.
“I checked yesterday with my office, with the attorney-general, whether we can operate this law, and the answer is positive,” Shaked said. “We need to do anything we can in order to fight them back in order that they will change their decision.”
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff)