AirBDS, antisemitic bed and breakfast

For defenders and lovers of Israel across the globe, Airbnb's partial retraction of its discriminatory policy of delisting Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria is cause to celebrate. Yes, the hospitality behemoth did not completely reverse its bias and bigoted attack on Jewish homeowners living in biblical lands west of the Jordan River. But its humiliating climb-down, caused by ferocious pressure from pro-Israel groups — especially our World Values Network full-page Washington Post ad — demonstrates that BDS can and must be defeated.

In a Hebrew-language statement released to the tourism minister, the company conceded that its "policy will not be implemented." The company promised also to "continue its dialogue with the Israeli government." The Tourism Ministry reported the welcome policy change.

It was an especially important moment for us at The World Values Network, an organization we founded to spread universal Jewish values and defend Israel in the mainstream media. One of our important programs consists of full-page ads in national publications that call out those who demonize Israel and seek to destroy the world's only Jewish state with economic boycotts, and we have published countless ads thus far.

During Hanukkah, on the very day of the White House party, with Jewish and political leaders from across the spectrum gathering in the nation's capital, we took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post condemning Airbnb's boycott of the Jewish state. In enormous script, the ad rebranded the global platform as "Airbnb: Anti-Semitic Bed and Breakfast." Across the ad was a three-quarter width shot of Airbnb's 37-year-old billionaire CEO, Brian Chesky, whom we singled out as bearing responsibility for the inane and hurtful penalty reserved only for its Jewish users.

While many brave pro-Israel activists have joined the fight against Airbnb, our ad was the most visible response the corporation — and in particular Chesky — faced within the United States.

In its statement, Airbnb referred to the scandal as an "incredibly complex and emotional issue." Was the word "emotional" a nod to an ad that directly called their actions antisemitic?

SOME OF you reading this piece will disagree. You will say that BDS is not antisemitic. But it's a refusal to recognize the antisemitic nature of the BDS movement that has stymied a unified Jewish response to it.

While nothing can or should be compared to the Holocaust, we must never forget that it started with the boycotting of Jewish shops and businesses. I am currently reading Andrew Roberts's magisterial new book on Winston Churchill where he makes clear that as minister for munitions in the First World War, what worried Churchill desperately was the sinking of the British Merchant Marine by German U-boats. In other words, he did not fear that Britain would lose the war in a battle of arms but rather through economic destruction.

BDS is an attempt to annihilate Israel by choking off its economic lifeline. It is an attempt to isolate Israel as a pariah nation that no one does business with. And while it might not look as bloody as a suicide bomb, it is foul and disgusting nonetheless and represents an antisemitic attempt to bully the Jewish state into submission.

Those who join the boycott, whatever their intention, have lent credence to the demonization of Jews and Israel. Our ad said so explicitly about Airbnb, and it began to backtrack.

True, Airbnb hasn't been all that clear with the public about the reversal. Apparently embarrassed at having reversed its decision to drop only Jewish "offenders" from its platform, Airbnb released a second statement in English calling the Israeli report "inaccurate." But from that very statement itself, it was clear that Airbnb's use of the word "inaccurate" was itself inaccurate. Firstly, within the English statement itself, the company included "unequivocal rejection of the BDS movement and... its commitment to develop its business in Israel." That alone can be considered a reversal, at least ideologically. But more importantly, toward the end of the press release, Airbnb actually admitted that it was still "developing the tools needed to implement our policy" — a part of which would include "continuing [its] ongoing dialogue with the government of Israel." In other words, the policy has been suspended.

In any case, Israel was right. You can safely disregard the murky, convoluted statement released in the policy reversal's aftermath. This hypocritical load of BDS is, in all likelihood, on its way out.

The truth is, it had to be. From the moment that Airbnb made its hypocritical announcement boycotting Jewish-owned homes on November 19 — which happens to be my birthday and which it ruined with its announcement — the policy appeared both ridiculous and unsustainable. Airbnb is a corporation that promises its customers that they can travel anywhere. That's a promise that can be kept only if you actually have a presence — just about anywhere.

And, indeed, it does. Airbnb currently lists rentals in an amazing 191 countries, but which suddenly feels a lot less so when you consider that it includes Putin's Russia, Erdogan's Turkey, Maduro's Venezuela, Mnangagwa's Zimbabwe and Castro's Cuba — despite the fact that all of those regimes have dismal records on human rights. Amazingly, Airbnb even operates in Myanmar, whose government jails any journalists who report the exodus of the country's Rohinga Muslim minority after a state-funded military campaign of mass killings, sexual violence and widespread arson.

The idea, it seems, was that the people living in these countries couldn't be held accountable for the actions of their governments. Had Airbnb been consistent in its separation of citizen and state for all peoples everywhere (excluding sanctioned nations like North Korea and Iran, where it can't legally operate), it could have avoided the backlash and the backtrack.

Because only the Jewish settlements within Judea and Samaria were penalized by Airbnb, it chose instead to discriminate against the Jewish state, and within that state, against the Jews alone.

Should you argue that Airbnb's decision was connected to the uniqueness of a supposed "occupation," its hypocrisy is just as easily apparent. The company operates in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Chinese-occupied Tibet, and Russian-occupied sectors of Georgia.

IN ALL of this is a deeper lesson.

When I first heard the news of Airbnb's bigoted policy of singling out Jews for geopolitical discrimination, I felt excruciating disappointment. Here was a company that I used all the time and — aside from a few mishaps — generally appreciated. It was also a company that mattered, a global tech behemoth that millions of people used to supplement their income or to see more of the world. To see them fall into the blinding grip of a movement that seeks the economic destruction of the Jewish state was demoralizing.

Is this, I asked myself, the story of the Jewish people? A story of discrimination and persecution, repeated time and again throughout the generations?

It occurs to me now that no, this — this handful of Jewish patriots successfully taking on a $30 billion dollar tech behemoth — was the real Jewish story. This was the story of Moses and Pharaoh. This was the battle of David and Goliath, of Samson and, yes, on Hanukkah, of the Maccabees. As we say on the Festival of Lights, "As it was in their day, so is it to repeated in our own time.... The many were delivered into the hands of the few."

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About the Author

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, 'America's Rabbi,' whom the Washington Post calls 'the most famous rabbi in America,' is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including his most recent, "The Israel Warrior." Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.