Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dear Airbnb

Airbnb announced that it will no longer provide its services to Jewish homeowners in the West Bank. Although this decision will probably impact no more than 200 people and will have no effect at all on the Israeli economy, it is nonetheless a highly offensive decision and morally very questionable.  I wrote a letter to the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky:

Dear Mr. Chesky:

I am writing to register my strong objection to Airbnb’s decision to stop providing its services to those Jews who live in Jewish communities in the area commonly referred to as the West Bank.  My family and I will not be using Airbnb’s services unless this decision is reversed.  I would like to explain why.

At best, your decision reflects a lack of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and is ill-considered.  At worst, it is a manifestation of Jew-hatred, aka anti-Semitism.

The Balfour Declaration stated that the British government looked favorably on the development of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.  Originally Palestine included the territory that is now Israel, the disputed West Bank, and Jordan.  When England was given a mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations it was with the full knowledge that England had issued the Balfour Declaration.

Subsequently the British created Jordan, arbitrarily tearing it off from what was Palestine and giving it to a dictator imported from elsewhere in the Arab world.  That dictator’s descendants still control Jordan even though about 70 percent of the population of Jordan is Palestinian.

In 1947, in a painful compromise, those Jews working to create the Jewish state in that area that was left agreed to a compromise:  the Jewish state would be a very narrow strip along the Mediterranean Sea, along with the Negev Desert and a part of the Galilee, and another Arab state would be created in what is now the West Bank.  (In those days, Jews and Arabs were both called Palestinians, although most in the Arab world considered the West Bank not a Palestinian state but part of southern Syria.)

The Arab world rejected this compromise.  In the 1948 war that resulted, Jordan took control of the West Bank.  Only Iraq, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom recognized Jordan’s sovereignty over the area.  The Arab world did not.  Jordan did not allow creation of a Palestinian state.  Very few people advocated for it.

In 1967, Israel fought a defensive war against Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other Arab nations.  As a result of that war Israel took control of the West Bank.  Given the history as outlined above, as well as the war, it was entirely reasonable for Israelis to claim control of the area and to develop communities there.

Nevertheless, Israel offered several times to give up much if not all of those territories for the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for peace.  (I supported those offers and still support the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for iron-clad guarantees of peace and security for Israel.)  All of its offers were rejected, sometimes with violence.

In the meantime, Israeli Jews settled in areas of the West Bank.  That activity could have been stopped if the Palestinians had agreed to a peace deal.  But, in any event, one wonders why Jews living in the area prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state.  Arabs live in Israel, Mexicans live in the U.S., Americans live in Canada, Germans live in France, and so on.

Under the Oslo Accords, the final disposition of the territories is to be negotiated between the parties.  By boycotting Jews and not non-Jews in the area, Airbnb’s discriminatory behavior is prejudging the outcome of the negotiations and is clearly taking one side in a territorial dispute, something unusual for a business.

Moreover, the Oslo Accords govern the conduct of the parties until a final agreement is negotiated, and there is no prohibition on Jews renting accommodations in their homes and apartments in the Accords.  Indeed, Israeli Jewish activity in the West Bank has brought economic benefits to many Palestinians.  And, while I do not know which Jews rent out places in the territories, it is probably a good guess that a high number, likely a majority, of the residences you have targeted are in areas that will remain under Israeli sovereignty should a final agreement ever be reached.

Although Israel has made several offers to exchange all or a substantial part of the West Bank for peace, Israelis have a very legitimate claim to the West Bank, perhaps better than anyone.  Certainly their claim is no less legitimate than Russia’s claim to Crimea, Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara, China’s claim to Tibet, and Turkey’s claim to northern Cyprus.  Yet, Airbnb does business in all of these locations while boycotting Israeli Jews in the West Bank.  This is hypocritical and wrong and very arguably anti-Semitic.

Please note the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the U.S. State Department and the 31 member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), of which the United States is a member.  According to the definition, anti-Semitism includes  “Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation."  In boycotting Israeli Jewish homes in the West Bank while continuing to do business with people in other countries whose claims of sovereignty are probably less than or, at best, equal to Israel’s, Airbnb is clearly applying a double standard and, therefore, is most likely engaging in anti-Semitism.

Lastly, please understand that, for historical reasons, a boycott is particularly hurtful and odious to Jews.  Among the first acts of hatred, isolation, and demonization  used by the Nazis and others who persecuted Jews throughout history was engaging in boycotts of their businesses and depriving them of their right to make  livelihoods in their professions.  In engaging in a boycott of Jews you are, to put it mildly, in company with a very nefarious group of historical characters.

For these reasons, unless Airbnb changes its discriminatory, anti-Semitic behavior, l and my family will not use its services, either as a renter or a homeowner seeking to rent one of my homes.   Moreover, I will encourage as many people as I possibly can to avoid doing business with Airbnb until it treats all Israeli Jews in the same manner as it treats other people in a territorial dispute.

I hope that you will reverse this hurtful and discriminatory policy soon.

Thank you.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Alan Edelstein

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)


  1. Good letter. But tough to educate the know-nothings.

  2. Last week, you took on CNN. This week AIRBNB. And next week...
    I would love to read their replies.

  3. Well said, well argued. Now let's see if the company responds …

  4. The area of Israel’s Judea and Samaria is largely misunderstood through the lens of modern day secular politics. Yet In fact this area cannot be “occupied” by Israel after having been a part of that country and the Jewish people from time immemorial. It is the term “Palestine” that is a new phenomenon established precisely to distort history and the Jewish people’s biblical and continuing ownership of their place in the world.

    Let us hope companies such as Airbnb make better and more informed decisions. Otherwise it says a lot about its leadership and prognosis as a successful and truth driven enterprise.

  5. Well and respectfully argued

  6. Your letter is beautifully constructed, you are in danger of being conscripted to "Israel's Spokesman effort"

  7. Excellent piece Allen. I am joining you in refraining from doing business with Airbnb and in encouraging as many people as I possibly can to avoid doing business with them as well.

  8. Thank you and well said. Unfortunately, we live in a world of people who do not read history and have knee-jerk reactions. Or, as you have stated, are basically anti-semitic. I wonder how many other BNB rentals there are in other countries where the citizens are denied basic human rights and AIRBNB has no problem doing business.

  9. Excellent letter Alan. Thanks for the most concise history lesson.

  10. Excellent! And, if I remember correctly, the Israelis pleaded with Jordan to stay out of the 1967 war but Jordan, knowingly risking its loss of the West Bank, entered anyway. Never really liked Airbnb anyway so no problem staying away.

  11. Excellent as usual!! Love your writing!

  12. We agree with you 100%, kol hakavod for writing what most of us are thinking!