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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Florida Sanctions Airbnb for Removing West Bank Properties

By Billy Binion - February 06, 2019 at 11:01AM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis voted last week to place economic sanctions on Airbnb after the company stopped listing properties in the West Bank, which was perceived by some as a pro-Palestine stance. DeSantis, working with other state officials, added Airbnb to a list of "scrutinized companies," which bars state investment in companies that boycott Israel.*

"It was a dumb policy," said DeSantis. "I think they made a mistake. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and admit you made a mistake and move on."

But it would seem the company isn't necessarily pro-Palestine—or at least isn't anti-Israel. A quick search on their website returns listings for Israeli properties all across the country: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Yafo, and more.

"There are over 20,000 Airbnb hosts in Israel who open their doors and showcase the best of Israeli hospitality to guests from around the world, which boosts local families, businesses and communities," wrote Robert Chestnut, Airbnb's general counsel, in a letter to the State Board of Administration. "Our community of hosts in Israel has already welcomed more than 1 million guests and we will continue to invest in Israel."

Airbnb says it removed its West Bank properties in November because both Israel and Palestine claim ownership over the contested territory. It's the same reason the company doesn't have a presence in Crimea, which is disputed territory between Ukraine and Russia.

Even if Airbnb did harbor some internal anti-Israel sentiment, it would seem fairly obvious that it is not part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an effort to hold the country accountable for mistreating Palestinians. But why should it matter if they're BDSers in the first place? Businesses often vote with their dollars, investing in causes that resonate with them and snubbing those that don't. Consumers do the same. BDS, however, strikes a chord with many lawmakers nationwide.

Half of all states have passed laws that prohibit public agencies from doing business with companies or individuals who openly associate with BDS. What's more, the Senate approved a measure this week—pushed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fl.)—that would restrict Israel boycotts on a federal level. The bill, which now heads to the House, is largely supported by Republicans but has divided top Democrats.

"While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American's constitutional right to engage in political activity," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) said in a statement last week. "It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans' First Amendment rights."

Whether the boycott is actually effective is another question entirely—its impact is likely negligible. But that makes the national crackdown all the more puzzling, as it draws more attention to BDS.

In any case, Gov. DeSantis has made promises to live up to after wooing the Jewish community during his campaign. "If we're not the most pro-Israel state in the country, we will be on January 8," he said at the Israeli American Council National Conference, referencing his inauguration date. But the governor also promised to defend First Amendment rights, which should apply across the board—regardless of political persuasion.

*CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to more clearly describe the sanctions imposed by the state of Florida.


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