Settlers v. Airbnb

Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon

On 19 November, Airbnb announced that it had removed from its website around 200 properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The global travel agency explained that it had decided to 'act responsibly' after considering the settlements’ 'disputed' character and their contribution to 'human suffering'.

The timing of Airbnb's announcement probably wasn't coincidental. The next day, Human Rights Watch released a report, Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land, in which Palestinians testify that dozens of properties listed on Airbnb and were built on their expropriated land. The human rights group concludes that by making settlements profitable and thus facilitating the unlawful transfer of Israel’s citizens to colonised land, the companies are complicit in war crimes.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement praised Airbnb’s decision as a 'first step in the right direction'; Israel’s tourism minister, Yariv Levin, said it was racist, adding that the Israeli government would raise taxes on Airbnb and encourage hosts in the settlements to sue the travel agency.

Several hosts duly filed a class-action lawsuit in the Jerusalem District Court, arguing that Airbnb routinely rents 'apartments in war or disputed areas and apartments in areas where tens of thousands of people have been expelled from their homes', such as Northern Cyprus and Tibet. 'The only thing that is forbidden,' the petitioners say, 'is to be a settler in the State of Israel.'

By comparing the West Bank to other occupied territories around the world, the settlers' suit does at least implicitly acknowledge that their homes are built on land stolen from Palestinians. By claiming that Airbnb's decision discriminates against them, the settlers are asserting their human right to colonise.


  • 28 November 2018 at 6:12pm
    Joe Morison says:
    Before the inevitable and almost entirely fruitless shouting match between Fred Skolnik, his few supporters, and those opposed to him starts; I’d like to remind everyone of the words of the Buddha, “Hatred cannot be ended with hatred. Only love can end hatred. This is an absolute truth.” Or, if that’s too ancient and religious, Auden’s “We must love one another or die.”

    Fred is motivated by a desire to protect his country, those attacking him by a concern for Palestinian suffering; none of us want a world with more grief in it, which is all the anger on on both sides achieves. This is the LRB for fuck’s sake; if we can’t discuss this with a genuine attempt to understand each other’s sincerely held opinions, and try and find some peace between us, what hope does the Middle East have?

    • 1 December 2018 at 9:56am
      RobotBoy says: @ Joe Morison
      Indeed. What a wonderful world if only the lion would lay down with the lamb without the latter becoming a late-night snack.
      Unfortunately, the Skolniks of the world have absolutely no interest finding peace, at least any peace that doesn't insist on the continued oppression of millions of human beings and deliver a final ethnic cleansing of the West Bank in the service of 'Greater' Israel. I've managed to avoid Skolnik's misguided diatribes for a good long time but seem to recall him arguing that Palestinians are genetically 'Arab' and thus not native to the land being stolen from them, which makes stealing their land...not stealing, in some bizarre fashion. Not only is such a statement factually incorrect, it's also completely irrelevant, but Skolnik is happy to repeat it because it serves the purpose of muddying the issue and diverting what is in fact a fairly clear situation of occupation and resistance. AS it happens, I understand the opinions of Skolnik and other right-wing bigots quite well, which helps me to further understand that putting flowers in their gun barrels isn't going to make them stop shooting children or bulldozing olive groves. Singing Kumbaya to apartheid's apologists or informing the KKK that 'we're all brothers under the skin' wastes time and gets you exactly nowhere. But it's your time to waste so have at it. For the sake of decency though, leave off implying a moral equivalence between the oppressor and the oppressed.

    • 1 December 2018 at 11:29am
      Joe Morison says: @ RobotBoy
      Well, I don’t know if Fred Skolnik is an oppressor, but I sure as fuck know that the people who attack him on this forum aren’t the oppressed.

  • 2 December 2018 at 5:59am
    Laurie Strachan says:
    Very angry, and very coarse, words from man calling for peace. Surely we can do better than this?

    • 4 December 2018 at 8:26pm says: @ Laurie Strachan
      Laurie, Joe's harsh language is in the service of a good cause. Even God (@TheTweetOfGod) has resorted to it a recent tweet: "I will stop tweeting obscenities when all of you stop being so fucking stupid".

  • 2 December 2018 at 6:01am
    Laurie Strachan says:
    Sorry, finger error there. A man, of course.

  • 2 December 2018 at 8:54am
    Joe Morison says:
    Not at at all angry, Laurie; and if you were offended by my coarseness, I am genuinely sorry. ‘Fuck’ is a meaningless intensifier that I use the whole time, and it’s easy to forget that for some people it’s offensive - that’s what a lifetime in the den of iniquity that is London does to you.

    I wasn’t angry with RobotBoy, but I was saddened. I don’t suppose he and I would have any great disagreements about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Our disagreement is how to go about debating the topic on this forum. The thing that distresses me most about the discussions here about Israel, in stark contrast to every other topic where people are almost universally polite and engaging, is the level of personal abuse. I might agree with RobotBoy about Israel’s actions, but I would never reduce that to a personal attack on an individual (I don’t count politicians as individuals because they have chosen to be representatives of their government or party).
    It’s absurd and pointlessly offensive to say that Fred is a “bigot” who has “absolutely no interest finding peace, at least any peace that doesn’t insist on the continued oppression of millions of human beings and deliver a final ethnic cleansing of the West Bank in the service of ‘Greater’ Israel.” From everything I’ve read from him (most of which I strongly disagree with), it seems obvious to me that all he wants is his country to be safe from attack; and that whatever behaviour and beliefs he feels himself forced into, he is at heart a compassionate man who would very much like everything to end happily ever after for all involved.

    One thing I do find offensive from those who attack him is their overweening sense of moral superiority. Fred is of an age where I imagine he was brought up surrounded by people with first hand memories of the Holocaust. I have an Israeli friend (whose approach to the Palestinians could not be more different to Fred’s) who used to creep down at night to hear her camp surviving parents and their friends discussing it all: “You would not believe the things I heard, Joe, you would not believe them.” None of us can know how we would have reacted to such a start in life; and none of us know what it’s like to live in a country surrounded by peoples who want you all dead (regardless of the justice of the claims of the dispossessed).
    I don’t deny that the creation of Israel was a crime, but so was the creation of every other country that there’s ever been. The crimes committed in the Americas and Australia make Israel’s pale in comparison; and as for the crimes that built our ancient countries, fortunately for our peace of mind they are lost in the mists of history. In the West, we lives lives of astonishing prosperity and privilege compared to the large majority of the world’s population, and that wealth and privilege is built on the economic rape of the rest of the world. As good left-wingers we deplore the situation, vote against it, and even give the odd bit of our surplus wealth to worthy causes; but if I was someone in the third world whose child had just died for the want of a few pence worth of medicine, I don’t think I’d take our protestations of innocence very seriously while I could see us spending on one Toffee Nut Frappuccino® with hazelnuts the money needed for that medicine. None of this is to say that we shouldn’t attack wrongdoing where we see it, and call out the behaviour of immoral governments including our own; but it does mean that we shouldn’t paint ourselves as being so very superior to those we attack.

    I would say to people that if you read something here you don’t agree with, attack the ideas not the person, and try and do it in a way that is constructive. What problem has ever been solved by people shouting abuse at each other? This blog is usually polite and considerate which, along with its erudition, is what makes it a jewel; but when it comes to Israel, the whole things descends into a juvenile shouting match which is not worthy of this publication. As I said in my original post, this is the LRB, and we can’t manage civilized discourse then what hope does anyone else have?

    • 3 December 2018 at 1:33pm
      freshborn says: @ Joe Morison
      Did you read the LRB article a couple of months ago about Thatcher and Israel? It mentioned a letter to the New York Times by a group of 29 prominent Jews (including Einstein), from 1948, condemning the Irgun and drawing a moral equivalency between it and the Nazi party.

      "How dare they feign morally superiority, after all, the member of the Irgun probably knew Holocaust survivors", would you also respond?

      If somebody were vehemently defending apartheid in South Africa, would it be unacceptably uncivil to call them a racist? Or would that also revolt you, and provoke similar whataboutery?

    • 4 December 2018 at 10:33am
      Joe Morison says: @ freshborn
      I did know about the letter, and no I wouldn’t have responded like that.

      If someone was vehemently defending apartheid in South Africa, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call them a racist but it might not be helpful if one was seeking to change their mind - which, given that they were on this forum, would have to at least be a possibility (the moderators would not let someone post who just spewed racist filth with no willingness to engage in dialogue). If your purpose here is to make yourself feel better by throwing insults at those you disagree with, I’d say you’re in the wrong place; but if it’s to exchange ideas and argue your case, then insults are counterproductive - people very seldom consider what else someone has to say if they start off by telling them they are a monster.

  • 3 December 2018 at 6:20pm
    stettiner says:
    AirBnB will operate anywhere and serve anyone, except Jews in the so called W Bank. But if you're not Jewish, they'll list you. It's blatantly racist.

    And you discuss Fred Skolnik, who's not even here.

    What a sorry lot you are...

    • 5 December 2018 at 3:30am
      Graucho says: @ stettiner
      "so called W Bank" - what should it be called then?

    • 5 December 2018 at 10:16am
      stettiner says: @ Graucho
      The UN partition plan called the area "the hill country of Samaria and Judea", as it has been called for thousands of years.

  • 3 December 2018 at 11:30pm
    Eddie says:
    Joe Morison poses as a gatekeeper of politeness and then (as with many such) becomes vitriolic when opposed. The LRB is well known as having a proPalestinian stance and bravo for that in the current climate.

    • 4 December 2018 at 10:42am
      Joe Morison says: @ Eddie
      ‘Vitriolic’! Crikey Moses (as Newt from All Gas and Gaiters used to swear)! Have you actually read what I’ve written? ‘Fuck’ is a meaningless intensifier, and easily the most commonly used in my language community - it signifies nothing more than a meaningless intensification. As I said above, it just comes with a life lived in London; but sincere apologies to anyone offended. (To the extent there was a snap in my reply to RobotBoy, it was because, although I don't suppose he meant it, his words implied that the people posting here against Fred Skolnik were the opressed.)

      As for the LRB’s political stance, it’s one of the reasons I subscribe.

    • 6 December 2018 at 6:32pm says: @ Eddie
      LRB's stance is not pro Palestinian on political grounds. From my observation, LRB has always stood for truth and justice. That automatically puts it in the camp of the attacked and the oppressed. Skolniks and Stettiners prefer to interpret it as antisemitism. Their point of view is anchored not in morality but in politics.

  • 4 December 2018 at 7:14pm
    Lashenden says:
    Here's a few commonplaces for you: The desire to erase one's antagonists - either materially or in language, is driven by fear. Very many people in the world, LRB blog readers included, currently live in a state of constant anxiety that is essentially the barely-sublimated fear of increasing social instability. We can all see how fear leads to right populism, but it just as surely leads to left populism, which currently has an unhealthy predilection for totalising good vs evil narratives. However, the first duty of anyone who wishes to contribute constructively to political discourse should be to subdue their own fear, because fear makes for very bad decision-making indeed. Those, like Mr. Morison, who have attempted in some measure to do this are naturally vilified by the fearful as not invested enough in the good vs evil narrative.

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