Florida took a step Tuesday in imposing economic sanctions on the popular home-sharing platform Airbnb because of a company decision against listing properties in the West Bank, an area that is a major flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, acting as the State Board of Administration, agreed to place Airbnb on the state’s scrutinized companies list. The list prohibits state investment in companies that boycott Israel.
DeSantis, who urged taking the step, said he hopes the state’s action causes Airbnb — which has been working to go public later this year — to reverse its decision.
“If we allow Israel to be singled out for commercial discrimination, it’s only going to snowball,” DeSantis said. “You’re going to have more and more people joining, you’ll have more governments get involved, and then all of a sudden this one country, that’s trying to do it the right way, standing for the right values, it’s both literally and figuratively made the desert bloom, that they will be in an even more precarious situation.”
Airbnb, which has 90 days to respond to the State Board of Administration’s action, issued a statement after the meeting reiterating that it “unequivocally” rejects the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or “BDS,” movement that has targeted Israel and supported Palestinians.
“There are over 20,000 Airbnb hosts in Israel who open their doors and showcase the best of Israeli hospitality to guests from around the world, which boosts local families, businesses and communities,” the company statement said. “Our community of hosts in Israel has already welcomed more than 1 million guests and we will continue to invest in Israel.”
On Jan. 17, Airbnb General Counsel Robert Chestnut wrote to the State Board of Administration that the company has a “framework for disputed territories in an ongoing manner around the world.”
“This is a difficult issue and Airbnb knows that some people may disagree with this decision and the company appreciates their perspective,” Chestnut wrote. “The company is open to conversations about the topic and continues to engage and meet with those who have a different perspective.”
The company has said the decision against allowing hosts in “the settlements in the West Bank” affects about 200 listings.
On Monday, an Airbnb official was in Tallahassee trying to lobby members of the state Cabinet, as the platform sent out a news release saying it had generated more than $89.5 million in state and local taxes in 2018 in Florida, up from $45.7 million the prior year.
Guy Gilady, Israel’s deputy counsel general in Miami, appeared at the Cabinet meeting and called the Airbnb West Bank decision “shameful.”
“Airbnb is applying an obvious double standard towards Israel and Israelis, which is far removed from the policy that we recognize by any fair-minded observer as objective and non-discriminatory,” Gilady said.
“The company should not be allowed to put a smokescreen of PR moves and statements to obfuscate the public, disguise their bias, to maintain the discriminatory policy,” Gilady added.
Last year, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, then the governor, signed into law a bill (HB 545) that expanded a prohibition on state and local governments awarding contracts to companies that boycott Israel.
The action by the State Board of Administration followed a resolution supported by DeSantis and the full Cabinet that said Jerusalem is the “eternal and undivided capital” of Israel. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried serves on the full Cabinet but is not a member of the State Board of Administration.
The resolution, proposed by Patronis, supported the December 2017 move by President Donald Trump to shift the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The change upset many people in the Arab world and Western allies, while fulfilling a Trump campaign pledge.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has asked Moody to determine if Airbnb’s policy violates the civil rights of Floridians who own property in the West Bank and want to use the service.