An Israeli cabinet minister has called 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.
On Monday, Airbnb said it would remove 200 listings from the website – which allows home-owners to rent out their rooms, apartments and houses to people – prompting a response from the Israelis.
“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 said at a conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
“By the way, Booking.com is a great service,” added Erdan, the main person in Israeli government efforts to combat pro-Palestinian boycotts.
Airbnb said the move was based on an internal framework used to judge how it handles listings in occupied territories around the world.
“We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” a statement on the Airbnb website said.
Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, Omar Shakir, said Airbnb’s decision was a “welcome step”.
“Airbnb has sent an important message to the rest of the business community,” Shakir told Al Jazeera.
“It is impossible to do business [in the occupied West Bank] without contributing to serious violation of international humanitarian law and the human rights of the Palestinians.
“It was acquiescing to a policy in which Palestinian ID holders are not allowed to enter settlements solely because of who they are – and it appears to be the only case in the world, for which Airbnb hosts are mandated by law to discriminate based on national origin,” he added.
Airbnb stops brokering rentals on West Bank land stolen from Palestinians who are barred from staying there. @bookingcom, all eyes now on you–delisting only way to meet your human rights responsibilities under UN Guiding Principles https://t.co/3JO2APIvKy pic.twitter.com/94CAbNnl6q
— Omar Shakir (@OmarSShakir) November 21, 2018
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, addressing another conference on Wednesday, 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 US states that have legislated against anti-Israel boycotts.
In a statement emailed to Al Jazeera, Airbnb’s global head of policy and communications, Chris Lehane, 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.”
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
The Airbnb listings in the West Bank have long been criticised by the Palestinian community and human rights activists.
In a 2016 report, Human Rights Watch said companies that operate within or in coordination with Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories benefit from and contribute to an unlawful system that violates the rights of Palestinians.
According to Peace Now, settlement plans in the West Bank have increased since the beginning of 2017, when President Donald Trump, a key ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was inaugurated as president of the United States.
According to Palestinian figures, more than 700,000 Jewish settlers now live on 196 settlements (built with Israeli government approval) and more than 200 settler outposts (built without its approval) across the occupied West Bank.
International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and considers all Jewish settlements on the land to be illegal. They are also viewed as major obstacles in peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians want for their future state.