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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My vacation in Mecca, or why I’m saying bye bye to Airbnb

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I’ve always loved Airbnb, a site that made it super-easy for anyone and everyone to rent out their place and make a little money on the side (or a lot – I know for lots of people it’s an actual business at this point). 

But I abruptly quite loving them today, following the announcement that they’ll be blocking listings from Jews in disputed areas of the West Bank.

Why?  According to NGO Human Rights Watch, who undoubtedly has advised Airbnb every step of the way, it’s mainly because “Palestinian ID holders are effectively barred from entering” these areas (just as they can’t enter many parts of Israel).  Because the Palestinian Authority have utterly failed, since the initial hope of Oslo, to reach any kind of peace agreement – not tried and failed, but simply failed due to power hunger on the part of their leadership.

When I read about all of this this morning, frankly, I was astonished that I had an opinion at all.

I didn’t used to.

You have to understand that I was a very bad prospective olah, in that I didn't really know anything about Israel before we came here.

I probably couldn't have found Haifa on a map.  Let alone Beer Sheva, Netanya, Ramat Gan and a whole bunch of other towns that I now know as well as the suburbs where I grew up.

Which also meant I couldn't tell the difference, politically, between Chevron and Rechovot, between Efrat and Eilat, between Kochav Yaakov and Kochav Yair (okay, to be fair, even born Israelis get those two mixed up!).

I always figured that if I lived in Israel, the "situation" here would make a lot more sense.  I would know what "settlements" people were talking about and understand whether they were right or wrong and which were the good bits of the country and which weren't.

I’m a lot less naive now. 

But even so, I certainly couldn't claim to know more about how to fix the situation than anyone else.  So the fact that Airbnb, like the EU, is announcing that they have the answer, and that the answer is to label different parts of the country in different ways to call attention to the political situation… well, that’s astonishing. 

  • It’s astonishing that they dare look at the situation from the outside and judge who deserves to live where and whose house deserves to be demolished.
  • It’s astonishing that they dare look at the situation from only one side and judge.
  • It’s astonishing that they, like the EU, buy the propaganda the PA churns out on a daily basis, aimed solely at garnering support all over the world rather than on telling the truth.
  • It’s astonishing that they think banning Jewish listings will solve anything.

When I brought up the Airbnb thing at supper tonight, GZ, age 11, asked what the problem was.  And I said it’s complicated. 

But is it?

Israel was arbitrarily partitioned by the British in 1948 into Jewish parts and Arab parts.

  • Jews trapped in Arab lands after 1948 suffered terribly.  Luckily, many eventually made it to Israel.
  • Many Arabs who tried to leave Israel ended up as refugees because other Arab countries didn’t want them, and some have suffered terribly.
  • Many Arabs in Israel after 1948 have had reasonably good lives, but were cut off from their relatives elsewhere and feel like they’re a disrespected minority here.

Then, in 1967, Israel was attacked by 5 countries and against all odds, we won.  We captured territory and held onto it as a barrier to create if not peace, then at least security.

  • In the 1970s, we gave back the Sinai in return for a chilly peace with Egypt which has (more or less) held.
  • In the 1990s, with the Oslo Accords, we divvied up the West Bank in the hopes of peace which never materialized.
  • In 2005, we handed Gaza to Hamas in the hopes of peace which similarly has never materialized.
  • Now the world is calling for us to give it all back, whatever we can.  And most Israelis doubt it will help.

So, in fact, it’s not really all that complicated, given that it can be explained to an 11-year-old in fewer than 10 sentences. 

I hope you can see why, by this point, I’m skeptical.  Certainly, it seemed clear enough to my 11-year-old (the standard to which all political conversations should be held!), so I have no clue why Airbnb or any decision makers in the EU refuse understand.

Except truly, I do have a clue.

It’s because it’s about Jews.

The way I see it, we need to stand up for Israel because it’s the only Jewish place in the world.  So it’s not as much about politics and personal opinion and more about the fact that they’re looking at the map and saying, “If you live over here and you’re Arab, your listing is okay.  But if you’re Jewish, your listing is banned.”

That’s not-okay in my world.

But what can we do about it?

Well, I’ve done two things, and here’s the important part:

I want you to as well, if you can.

There, now you have a call to action.

So what are the two things???

Cancel any reservations and your Airbnb account, if possible.

First, I actually had an Airbnb reservation – a few weeks ago, I booked a room I like in Jerusalem for my birthday.  HAD, because I don’t anymore.  I cancelled it.  Here’s the message I sent them:

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Here’s what I said (they didn’t give me a lot of characters to explain myself):

Cancelling due to Airbnb's new and antisemitic policy to boycott Jews living in certain areas of Israel. Since this policy discriminates only against Jews and not Arabs, it is both racist and offensive and I can no longer use your site.

Now it’s your turn.  Remember, it’s not about politics.

If you’re not going to be totally stuck without a place to stay, go ahead and cancel.  Be sure to tell them why.  Do it right now, before you read on.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

And what was the second thing?

Let them know they’re big fat hypocrites.

After I cancelled, I had a chance to think a little more about Human Rights Watch’s claim that the main problem here is that “Palestinian ID holders are effectively barred from entering.” 

That is terribly sad.  As a Canadian, I have a hard time with discrimination of any kind.  And I’m sure Airbnb feels similarly sorrowful about discrimination wherever it may be found.

So I went and searched their site to see if they have places for rent in other areas that violate this powerful ethical standard – mostly to confirm what I already know, which is that this is not about ethics, it’s about Jews.

Which is how it came to me, in a flash of inspiration – Mecca. 

Why not book a holiday in Mecca through the Airbnb site?  Ooooh, look!  So many choices!

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Awesome – this one has a gorgeous view of the Kaaba itself! (The holiest site in Islam, that shrouded cube in all the hajj pilgrimage pictures…)

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Oh, shoot.  Just one problem with my Mecca Airbnb Dream Vacation: non-Muslims aren’t allowed in Mecca.  Drat, I must have blanked out and forgotten all about that!

So wait, I’m not only “effectively” barred, as Human Rights Watch says the Palestinians are from Israeli areas, I’m actually literally barred?  That seemed very wrong to me. 

So I decided to share my concerns with Airbnb, letting them know that  I hope nothing gets between me and Mecca.

Dear Airbnb,
I'm concerned because Airbnb's policies allow listings that are racist, discriminatory, and offensive.  Specifically, you allow listings for properties in the city of Mecca although this is an area that as a non-Muslim, I am barred from entering.
For instance, this listing, for a "Luxury Studio With Kaaba View In Fairmont Hotel"
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/23035306
does not mention that as a non-Muslim, I would be able to book the room through your site but would be barred from entering the city.
(see this site, for example, for reference:
https://www.thoughtco.com/makkah-muslims-only-2004315)
I'm sure you agree that Mecca is a site that is relevant and fascinating for tourists from all over the world, regardless of faith. 
I also believe that since you're an American company committed to acting responsibly to bring about peace and equality, you should take steps to end housing discrimination in all Airbnb properties, wherever they may be located.
I look forward to your response.
Tzivia MacLeod
Airbnb community member

I’m absolutely positive I’ll be hearing from them soon with a confirmation that they have cancelled the 131 listings currently showing up in the city of Mecca.  I’m even willing to meet them halfway and overlook rumours that the entire country isn’t so friendly to Israelis, or at least, put it off for the time being.

The important part is to keep letting them know, in as many ways as possible, that their policies are bizarre and inconsistent.  So again, you go do that.  I’ll wait here again.

Done?  Good.

Of course, given the company’s strong feelings about properties that are in “occupied territories that are the subject of historical disputes,” I also expect them to shut down listings in Tibet sometime in the very near future.

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In fact, heck, given that Airbnb has also stated their strongly-held conviction that “companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced,” I also expect them to immediately cease doing business in most of North America, just to stay on the safe side.

Actually… since the company is headquartered in San Francisco, which itself belongs to the Ohlone peoples

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I’d suggest they go work things out, but it seems that most of the Ohlone were conveniently massacred in the 1800s, clearing the way for innovative do-gooders like Airbnb.  I wonder how many First Nations people they have on staff as a way of making amends?

Wait a minute.  Ancient history, you say?  Well, their descendants were still disputing land, and the many lies of the U.S. federal government over treaties and territories, even when I was born, and a number of times since, so it can’t be all that ancient.

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(Airbnb HQ, ©Dllu via Wikimedia)

I suggest that since Airbnb hand over the keys to their company to the Ohlone and just go home. 

Not forever, of course.  Just until there’s “a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow.”   Or until they realize they’re big fat hypocrites and give up pretending that this decision is anything other than what it is… purely about Israel.  Purely about Jews.

Until then, I’m not getting political, just standing up for the truth as I (and my 11-year-old) see it.


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


2 comments:

  1. So I had emailed AirBnB the morning the news broke, to let them know I would boycott them for now on, despite using them since 2012 to travel in 7 countries. Their response,well.......

    "thank you for reaching out to us. I am Rajnish with Customer Experience Team and I'm here to help.

    We know that this is a controversial issue, and we thank you for reaching out. There are many strong views here, and we respect all of them. We did not make this decision lightly.

    I'm not an expert on this subject. To answer your questions about the decision, I recommend reading the statement we published to our website.

    https://confluence.airbnb.biz/display/LEN/Removal+of+Listings+in+Disputed+Regions

    Best,"

    So far, I haven't received any response to my second message to them decrying the unfairness of my never being able to stay at their advertised listings in Mecca. I'm sure if I do receive a response it will be as illuminating as the first.

    We truly have to put our money where our mouths are. I have had many good experiences using AirBnB but I will not support their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic practices. There are ALWAYS other options.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post and good work! I'm from Toronto too and live in Yerushalayim.. Just one minor point, the country wasn't partitioned by the British in 1948. The British conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Turks in 1918 in WW1. They were given a "mandate" to rule over Palestine which they did until 1947 when they got fed up from trying to manage the Arabs and Jews and from the attacks on them from the Jewish underground (the Irgun and Stern gang). They set May 14th 1948 as the date they would leave. On November 29, 1947 the UN voted to partition the land. Although the piece given to the Jews was very small and indefensible, and Yerushalayim was to be an "international city", the leaders of the yishuv reluctantly accepted it. But the Arabs refused and immediately attacked and the War of Independence started. The day the British were to leave was a Shabbat. The day before that Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel. The war lasted until July 20, 1949. 1% of the population of Jews had been killed. More land than given in the partition plan was captured (including most of the Negev) but sadly Yerushalayim was divided. The armistice borders are the "green line" which lasted until 1967.

    ReplyDelete

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