Intel: Why Israel is turning to US states to fight Airbnb’s West Bank boycott


Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is turning to US governors to retaliate against online rental operator Airbnb for its decision to delist Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Times of Israel reports that Erdan, who is tasked with combatting the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, made his case in a letter to the governors of Florida, Illinois, California, New York and Missouri.

Erdan denounced Airbnb’s decision as anti-Semitic and called on the governors to “consider speaking out against the company’s decision and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to commercial dealings.”

Why it matters: Four of the five states already have anti-boycott laws or executive actions on the books, while similar legislation is pending in the Missouri state legislature. Civil liberties organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned the constitutionality of many of these laws.

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Florida has the most stringent law, which bans state and local governments from engaging in more than $1 million worth of business with any organization that boycotts Israel. Missouri is currently considering similar legislation.

Meanwhile, Illinois bans its state pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel. Outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has reportedly called on the Illinois Investment Policy Board to use the state’s anti-boycott law against Airbnb. 

California, where Airbnb is headquartered, has a less stringent law that requires companies to certify that they do not violate the state’s civil rights laws in boycotting Israel or any other foreign country. And in 2016, New York Gov. Chris Cuomo signed an executive action directing the state to divest from and create a list of companies that allegedly boycott Israel.

Send in the lawyers:  Although Airbnb’s decision only affects Israeli settlements in the West Bank, pro-Israel litigators see no distinction with internationally recognized Israel and are using the anti-boycott laws to sue the company. Bibliotechnical Blue & White, an Israeli company in the West Bank, has filed a case in New York asking the state to ban Airbnb. The company’s attorney, Daniel Abrams, argues that Airbnb has violated New York’s human rights law.

What’s next? Congress is also considering federal-level legislation that would penalize US companies and their employees from complying with international boycotts of Israel. The Senate version of the bill currently has 57 co-sponsors, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a separate version that would allow the Donald Trump administration to set the penalties earlier this year.

Separate legislation would also provide legal cover for state-level anti-boycott laws.

Know more: Read Al-Monitor’s Daoud Kuttab to find out what’s behind Airbnb’s decision to cease operating in the West Bank. And congressional correspondent Bryant Harris is keeping you up to speed on the latest iteration of the pending anti-boycott bills in Congress.

-Bryant Harris

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Found in: Settlements

Al-Monitor Staff

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