Gov. DeSantis Threatens To Sanction Airbnb Over West Bank Policy

Jan 15, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened on Tuesday to sanction Airbnb over what he called the home-sharing platform's anti-Semitic move to cease its operations along Israel's West Bank. The company has removed more than 200 listings in Israeli settlements in recent months, due to the dispute the homes have fueled with Palestinians.

Flanked by South Florida Jewish community leaders at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Boca Raton, DeSantis said Airbnb's decision violates a state law that prohibits Florida from working with companies that boycott Israel.

Florida's State Board of Administration is currently reviewing whether to put the platform on the state's list of scrutinized companies. Doing so could prevent Florida from investing in and contracting with Airbnb. 

"We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy," DeSantis said. "Airbnb claims that it is a community of inclusion. But yet this policy only affects these Jews who have property in the West Bank."  

Airbnb ignited outrage last November when it said it was removing the listings over ethics concerns. Much of the international community considers the settlements—constructed on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war—to be a violation of international law.

In response to DeSantis' comments Tuesday, Airbnb "unequivocally rejected" the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to end international support for Israel. 

The company added it has taken similar action in other parts of the world, like Crimea, which Russia has annexed from Ukraine. 

"We remain deeply committed to our more than 20,000 hosts in Israel," company spokesman Ben Breit said. "We are committed to the more than 45,000 hosts in Florida who share their homes with over 4.5 million visitors and we'll continue to do all we can to support the community."

DeSantis' warning to Airbnb came as he rolled out his policy toward Israel and to protect Jewish people from anti-Semitic ttacks. DeSantis often highlighted his committment to the Jewish community and condemned the BDS movement during his gubernatorial campaign last year. 

On Tuesday, the governor said his first foreign trip during his term would be to Israel. Citing the shooting last October at a Pittsburgh synogogue, he also pledged to make at least $2 million for security at Jewish day schools an automatic annual expense in the state's budget. 

"I don't want a Jewish parent to not want to send their kid to a Jewish school because they fear that makes them more likely to be targeted for harm," said DeSantis, who on Monday also appointed the first Jewish justice to the state Supreme Court in over 20 years. 

But it was his unforgiving stance toward Airbnb that generated the most attention. He said Florida's dispute with Airbnb would end if the company reverses its decision. But if the platform joins what he called Florida's "hit list," consequences could follow.

The state would not invest its pension fund in the company if it goes public. Municipalities might also not be able to enter into contracts with Airbnb. DeSantis said he already decided that state employees will no longer be reimbursed for staying at Airbnbs while on government trips. 

"Airbnb made a massive mistake of epic proportions. It is a potentially company-ending decision," said state Rep. Randy Fine, the only Jewish Republican in the Florida Legislature.