Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

Florida governor to make Airbnb 'feel heat' over Israel settlement boycott

Ron DeSantis called for sanctions against the company over de-listing of illegal Israeli settlement homes

An Israeli flag flies on a hill outside the Jewish settlement of Kfar Adumim in the West Bank, south of Jerusalem and overlooking the Jordan Valley, 28 November 2018. EPA
An Israeli flag flies on a hill outside the Jewish settlement of Kfar Adumim in the West Bank, south of Jerusalem and overlooking the Jordan Valley, 28 November 2018. EPA

The governor of Florida has called for sanctions on American home rental company Airbnb over its decision to de-list properties in Israeli settlements located in the occupied West Bank.

Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday that he would make the company "feel the heat" until it U-turns and allows illegal settlement homes to be advertised on the platform.

Mr DeSantis announced two possible actions against Airbnb: He said the state would suspend the use of Airbnb for state-paid travel, and would consider barring the state's pension fund from investing in Airbnb, even though the company is not currently publicly traded.

It comes after Airbnb removed 200 properties from the illegal Israeli settlements, calling them "at the core of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians".

The Israeli government was angered by the Airbnb decision as it dealt another blow to its bid to legitimise the settlement enterprise that is viewed as illegal under international law by the majority of the international community.

An Israeli minister in Prime Minister Bemjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government has lobbied five American states, including Florida, to retaliate against the company.

Israeli Interior Minister Gilad Erdan submitted a letter to five US states in November to call on them to take steps against Airbnb.

The letter was addressed to the governors of New York, California, Florida, Missouri and Illinois.

Mr Erdan called the Airbnb decision an adoption of “the anti-Semitic practices and narrative of the boycott movement” that is calling for Palestinian equality and an end to Israel’s occupation of territories it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

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The actions announced by Mr DeSantis against Airbnb were just part of the governor's show of support for the state's sizable Jewish population, which in the past has been more supportive of Democratic candidates. Mr DeSantis also announced that his first overseas trip would be to Israel in May, and he pledged at least $2 million in state money to Jewish schools for security upgrades.

It is not clear how much of an effect either policy would have on Airbnb, but Mr DeSantis said being on Florida's "hit list" would hurt the company if it decided to go public.

"If we can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat," he said, adding that Florida would change its stance if Airbnb reversed its policy.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Today, more than 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 200,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel sees the territory as disputed and says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Updated: January 16, 2019 02:38 PM

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