Lawfare Project cautions Airbnb: Cancel discriminatory policy or face legal consequences
On Monday, home-rental company Airbnb announced that it was removing Israeli West Bank property listings. The decision follows years of pressure from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which tirelessly advocates for boycotts and other unlawful discriminatory business practices targeting Israelis.
Today, The Lawfare Project sent an email to Airbnb's CEO, Brian Chesky (who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org), cautioning him that Airbnb's decision could expose the company to a range of severe consequences under U.S. state and federal law. The text of the email appears below.
Lawfare Project Executive Director also appeared on Israeli's i24NEWS to discuss the situation.
The Lawfare Project calls upon Airbnb's leadership to carefully consider the bigoted nature of its decision—as well as its own business interests—and to immediately cancel its discriminatory policy.
* * * TEXT OF EMAIL BEGINS BELOW * * *
To: Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Head of Community, Airbnb, Inc. <email@example.com>
Re: Legal implications of Airbnb's removal of Israeli West Bank property listings
Dear Mr. Chesky,
I write on behalf of The Lawfare Project, a legal think tank and litigation fund that pursues legal actions to uphold the civil and human rights of the Jewish people. One of our primary areas of focus is unlawful commercial discrimination, often inspired by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
On Monday, we learned of Airbnb's decision to remove listings of Israeli West Bank properties. This action carries a host of negative implications under U.S. federal and state law prohibiting discriminatory commercial conduct, including boycotts, and may expose Airbnb to damaging legal and financial liability under such laws. For several years, Airbnb has steadfastly rejected pressure from the BDS campaign and refused to engage in bigoted, unlawful conduct. It was therefore particularly stunning to learn of Airbnb's about-face.
The BDS campaign targets Israeli individuals, products, and businesses, as well as any individual or corporation engaging commercially with Israelis. BDS is a derivative of the Arab League boycott of Israel, conceived and initially implemented to preempt the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
On the federal side, Airbnb's removal of Israeli listings may run afoul of such statutes as the Export Administration Act of 1979 and regulations promulgated thereunder, the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976, and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. On the state side, half of the U.S. states have enacted legislation prohibiting state contracting with or investment in entities that participate in the economic boycott of Israel, and similar legislation is currently pending in a number of other states. States including New York and California also have long-existing legislation that outlaws discriminatory business conduct based on the religion, national origin, or citizenship of the target and enables entities to sue the perpetrator(s) of such discrimination.
With the enactment and vigorous enforcement of these laws, the United States has demonstrated its staunch commitment to harshly penalizing and eliminating commercial discrimination against allied nations and their business concerns. For instance, after The Lawfare Project notified the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) that Kuwait Airways Corporation (KAC) does not sell airline tickets to Israeli passport holders, the DoT issued a final agency determination that such conduct violated U.S. federal law, and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey subsequently delivered a cease letter ordering KAC to either comply with applicable law or cease its operations at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Another instance is the currently pending civil lawsuit against the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), filed by an Israeli-based organization in New York State Supreme Court in response to the NLG's refusal to sell advertising space to the plaintiff organization based on its Israeli national origin.
Please find attached a comprehensive memorandum analyzing in detail the aforementioned laws and their applications. Note also that many additional state laws prohibiting boycotts of Israel have been enacted since the memorandum was published. Violations of the laws discussed therein carry severe civil and criminal penalties.
If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be glad to provide additional guidance to assist Airbnb in complying with U.S. law.
Benjamin C. Ryberg
Chief Operating Officer / Director of Research
The Lawfare Project