Jewish Israeli hosts are suing Airbnb, alleging the company violated the United States’s Fair Housing Act, and its own nondiscrimination policy, by removing Jewish-owned properties in the West Bank from its short-term rental platform.
The 18 plaintiffs — who are dual citizens of Israel and the US, where Airbnb is based — demand an unspecified amount of financial compensation and for the court to reverse Airbnb’s decision on the issue. A host filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in Israeli court over the same issue last week.
Airbnb announced it would remove properties in Jewish settlements in the West Bank earlier this month, shortly before the scheduled publication of a Human Rights Watch report on the company’s business in the region. In its announcement, Airbnb said it would no longer allow property listings in any disputed territories that contribute to “existing human suffering” or create “potential safety risks for hosts and guests.”
Both the Palestinian government and the United Nations consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
On Wednesday, a group of Jewish Israelis who own and rent out properties in Palestinian territories filed suit against the company in Delaware federal court, alleging that Airbnb violated the Fair Housing Act by excluding Jewish hosts from using its service in the West Bank, while continuing to allow non-Israeli hosts to list rental properties in Palestinian territory.
“Airbnb made this decision knowing that the listings it would be excluding would be for residential properties owned predominately, if not exclusively, by Jews and/or Israelis,” the lawsuit reads. It continues to say that Airbnb’s decision “discriminates against Jews and/or Israelis on its face and in effect on the basis of race, religion and national origin.”
The suit also claims that Airbnb made its decision to remove the listings under pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a pro-Palestinian economic effort that has been criminalized in Israel, with discussions of potentially similar policies ongoing in the United States.
Israeli authorities called for Jewish hosts to sue Airbnb following its announcement of policy changes in the West Bank. In Beverly Hills, California, the city council unanimously passed a decision to boycott Airbnb because of its decision on Israel; as of publication, there were still Airbnb listings available for rent in Beverly Hills.
“We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective,” Airbnb said in a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News. “Israel is a special place with special people and we are honored to have more than 20,000 hosts in Israel who welcome visitors from all over the world and continue to do all we can to support people to travel.”
The company also said that, because of international sanctions, it does not currently allow hosts to list properties in Crimea.
In a press release, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case said that "[a]lthough Airbnb has sought to justify its policy because the region is politically contested, Airbnb has not enacted a similar policy against homeowners in other politically contested regions such as Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Crimea, or Taiwan." There could be hundreds of other "similarly situated Jewish homeowners in Israel" who could join in the suit, according to the release.