Florida Gov. threatens Airbnb with sanctions over Israel policy

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says Airbnb could face sanctions over its decision not to list properties in Judea and Samaria.

Elad Benari ,

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned Tuesday that Airbnb faces sanctions over its decision not to list properties in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, The Tampa Bay Times reported.

DeSantis said that the policy is discriminatory and may violate a state law that prohibits Florida from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

Florida’s State Board of Administration is preparing to present findings at the end of the month on whether the popular tourism service should be placed on a state list of scrutinized companies that boycott Israel, DeSantis said. Administrators have not yet made a recommendation to the State Board of Administration’s board of trustees, which is composed of Florida’s governor, attorney general and chief financial officer.

Airbnb caused an uproar in November of 2018 when it decided to remove listings for about 200 homes in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Subsequent reports indicated that Airbnb would not implement in practice its policy of boycotting Jewish properties in Judea and Samaria. Airbnb later released a statement in English in which it stated that those reports are inaccurate but also stressed that it rejects the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

DeSantis said Tuesday he hopes Airbnb will make the controversy moot by reversing its position. Florida’s new governor also made clear during a visit to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s Boca Raton headquarters that he believes Airbnb’s policy regarding “the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria” is anti-Semitic, and said the company is dangerously close to making it onto Florida’s “hit list.”

“We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy. It does target Jews specifically. I think that’s wrong,” said DeSantis, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

The Governor also declared that state employees will no longer be reimbursed for stays at Airbnb properties while on government business. “Airbnb claims it’s a company of inclusion and yet this policy only affects Jews who have homes on the West Bank. It doesn’t appear to apply to anyone else on the face of the earth,” he said.

Airbnb denied Tuesday that it is anti-Semitic, or that it has discriminated against Jews.

Spokesman Ben Breit said Airbnb has “unequivocally rejected” BDS and remains “deeply committed” to thousands of hosts in the country.

“We have worked with the Florida State Board of Administration on this matter,” Breit said, according to The Tampa Bay Times. “We remain committed to the more than 45,000 Airbnb hosts in Florida who share their homes with over 4.5 million visitors, and we’ll continue to do all we can to support our community.”

Last month, an independent board in Illinois voted to notify Airbnb that it is violating state laws barring the economic boycott of Israel, making Illinois the first state to take firm action against the online lodging company.

In addition, a group of Jewish Americans sued Airbnb Inc. in a US federal court following its decision to boycott Israeli communities, accusing the company of religious discrimination.

A separate lawsuit challenging Airbnb’s policy was filed in a Jerusalem court on November 22.