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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Mike Pence sides with Israel over Airbnb settlement row

The Vice President said boycotts of Israel had ‘no place’ in US markets

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a White House World AIDS Day Event in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC on November 29, 2018. AFP
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a White House World AIDS Day Event in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC on November 29, 2018. AFP

US Vice President Mike Pence has sided with Israel over the Airbnb row in which the home rental company delisted properties in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, outposts considered illegal under international law.

In a speech to the Israeli American Council on Friday, Mr Pence said that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for economic sanctions on Israel until it ends its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, has “no place” in the US market.

In attacking the movement, he referenced Airbnb’s decision last month to ban settlement homes from its platform. The booking website removed around 200 Israeli-owned properties from its platform on November 19 after deciding that such buildings were “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”.

“In the wake of Airbnb’s decision to ban Jewish homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, we made it clear, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is wrong and it has no place in the free enterprise of the United States of America,” Mr Pence said.

He incorrectly accused the company of banning Jewish settlement homes in Jerusalem. The company is yet to ban Israeli settlement properties in East Jerusalem, the territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

As governor of Indiana until 2017, he introduced legislation to bar state cooperation with any company that boycotts Israel.

His comments come after Israeli Interior Minister Gilad Erdan wrote a letter to five states, calling for them to take action against Airbnb. The letter was addressed to the governors of New York, California, Florida, Missouri and Illinois.

More than two dozen US states already ban cooperation with any business that boycotts Israel.

The Trump administration of which Mr Pence serves is viewed as the most pro-Israeli in history. It has taken a series of decisions that have sought to change the status quo on the ground in the decades-long conflict.

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It has relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, cut all US funding to the UN agency for Palestinians refugees, and slashed funding for East Jerusalem hospitals that serve sick Palestinians.

Palestinians have celebrated the Airbnb decision as a beneficial step towards ending the normalisation of Israel’s settlement project that they say seeks to prevent the contiguity of any future sovereign Palestinian state. Many hard-right nationalist Israelis consider the West Bank to be the ancient homeland of the Jewish people and refer to the territory as Judea and Samaria.

On Thursday, a group of Americans filed a civil rights lawsuit in a US federal court against home-sharing company Airbnb over its decision to ban listings from West Bank settlements.

The plaintiffs said in a statement Wednesday that Airbnb is discriminating against Jewish West Bank homeowners and doesn't maintain a similar policy in other disputed territories around the globe.

Airbnb said in a statement Thursday that it doesn't believe the suit filed in Delaware will succeed, but added: "We know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective."

A similar case was filed last week in a Jerusalem court.