Jewish Americans sue Airbnb Under Fair Housing Act

A group of Jewish American citizens have filed a civil rights lawsuit against Airbnb in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, alleging that the internet hospitality company has enacted a new policy discriminating against them based on their religion.

Last week, the San Francisco-based Airbnb announced it was redlining Jewish-owned properties in Judea and Samaria as a political statement. Under this policy, Jewish property owners in Judea and Samaria region are no longer permitted to list their properties, while Muslim and Christian property owners in the same region are free to list.

The lawsuit was filed under the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, ("FHA") 42 U.S.C.§ 3601, et seq. This federal statute safeguards against discrimination in the housing sales and rental markets.

The lawsuit asks that the court enjoin Airbnb from discriminatory practices against Jewish homeowners and seeks monetary compensation for ongoing lost rental income from prospective Airbnb customers.

The plaintiffs are twelve dual-citizenship Jewish American families that own properties in Israel, alongside one US citizen who has utilized Airbnb's services to rent properties in these areas. The lawsuit has was organized by Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center in Israel, and the families are represented by New York attorney Robert J. Tolchin, Israeli attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, and attorney David Eagle of Wilmington, Delaware.

Airbnb is incorporated in Delaware.

Jewish Americans sue Airbnb Under Fair Housing Act
Homeowners in Modiin Illit (below) are banned from Airbnb, while the Arab villagers in Dayr Qadis (above) are free to list.

The plaintiff homeowners contend that Airbnb has caved under pressure from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) group which seeks to delegitimize Israel and challenges its right to exist. The blacklisting targets only Jewish homeowners, while permitting neighboring homes owned by Muslims and Christians to be listed and rented out on its platform. Under its new policy, Airbnb permits listings from homeowners in an Arab village, but not from a Jewish town down the road.

In fact, Airbnb accepts listings from the Palestinian Authority, where Jews are prohibited by law from purchasing land, and the sale of land to a Jew is a capital offence.

Airbnb has not enacted a similar policy against homeowners in other politically contested regions such as Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Crimea, or Taiwan. Hundreds of other similarly situated Jewish homeowners in Israel affected by Airbnb's blacklisting are invited to join the civil action against Airbnb in the future.

Jewish Americans sue Airbnb Under Fair Housing Act
Homeowners in Beitar Illit (above) are banned from Airbnb, while the Arab village of Wadi Fukin is free to list. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

According to Shurat HaDin president Nitsana Darshan Leitner, "Airbnb's new discriminatory policy has made it the poster child for the racist BDS movement. These Jewish American property owners were shocked by Airbnb's blacklisting of their homes and intend to legally fight this new hateful policy. For centuries anti-Semites have sought to dictate where Jews can live, where they can travel, and what businesses they are permitted to engage in. Airbnb's redlining policy is illegal and discriminates against these families based solely on their religion."

"We are asking the court to put an end to Airbnb's illegal policies and pay these families compensation. Just as Jews fought back against these anti-Semitic attacks at the time of the original Hanukkah, we will continue to fight and defeat them today," Darshan Leitner said.

Plaintiffs' attorney Tolchin said: "Imagine if Airbnb decided not to serve Muslim homes in Oakland because they opposed growth of the Muslim community there. Nobody would tolerate that for a minute. Yet that is exactly what Airbnb's policy is for Jews in the Judea and Samaria region. As a provider of a service to the public, Airbnb is not permitted to refuse to provide services to selected religious group to engineer who it thinks should be allowed to live where."

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