A petition has been filed in the Jerusalem District Court to bring a class action against short-term rentals website Airbnb for discrimination. The petition follows the decision by Airbnb announced three days ago to remove from its listings 200 properties located in Jewish settlements on the West Bank. It was only a matter of time before attempts were made to bring the matter into the legal arena. Government ministers, among them Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin, and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan, have called on the owners of the properties to sue Airbnb, and the first such lawsuit got underway today.
The petition states that that removing access to or restricting solely ads for homes offered for rent in settlements located in Judea and Samaria represents especially grave, offensive and outrageous discrimination on the grounds of place of residence, country of origin and beliefs, and the court ought therefore to determine that Airbnb is not allowed to remove or restrict access to ads or homes located in Israeli settlements.
The petitioner is Ma'anit Rabinovich, a resident of the settlement of Kida in the Shilo Valley. She claims that until recently hundreds of places of accommodation in Judea and Samaria were offered on the Airbnb website, including her own guest rooms.
In her petition, Ma'anit also claims that she learned of Airbnb's decision only from the media, and that the company itself never contacted her or warned her about its intention to restrict its website or access to homes located in the settlements.
"From Airbnb's point of view, it was a lot more important to run to the media and tell them about its decision than to inform all those people that were about to be hurt," the petition states.
In its announcement that it would stop offering properties in West Bank settlements, Airbnb said, “Our team is struggling with this problem and we have been working hard to reach the right approach. We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” The petition points out that Airbnb offers accommodation to rent in several disputed territories, such as Tibet, Northern Cyprus, and the region of Abhazia in Georgia, where control is disputed between Russia and Georgia, and states, "From this, the petitioner draws the conclusion that, Airbnb has no policies regarding regions of conflict in the world. It has policies regarding settlements in the State of Israel, and towards them only."
The petitioner claims that the decision was taken following pressure from various bodies calling for a boycott of Israel led by the civil organization Kerem Navot, which she is also suing.
The petitioner adds that Airbnb declares as its policy that it is, "one of the most open, reliable, diverse and transparent communities in the world... we have a policy of zero tolerance to discrimination on our platform," and states that "Israeli settlers, it turns out, do not belong to the utopian community that Airbnb is trying to create, and are not entitled to the same respect that it is talking about."
The petition states that Airbnb's behavior constitutes "a gross lack of good will," and that the company engaged in a public relations campaign at the expense of members of the group.
The petition was filed by Advs. Aviel Flint and Asaf Shubinsky, partners in the Yossi Levy & Co law firm, together with Dr. Hagai Vinitzky, a member of the Ministry of Justice's arrangements committee for Judea and Samaria, and the author of "Real Estate Law and International Law in Judea and Samaria."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 22, 2018
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