By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister called on Wednesday for a boycott of Airbnb and promoted one of its rivals, escalating the government’s response to the home-rental company’s decision to delist Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“I call today on all those who support Israel and oppose discriminatory boycotts: they should cease using Airbnb and turn to other services,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told a diplomatic conference hosted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“By the way, Booking.com is a great service,” added Erdan, the point-man in Israeli government efforts to combat pro-Palestinian boycotts.
Airbnb said on Monday it would remove some 200 settlement listings after hearing criticism from people who “believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced”.
Palestinians who want to establish an independent state taking in the West Bank have welcomed the San Francisco-based firm’s move. It does not apply to East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, other territories Israel captured in a 1967 war but which Israel has annexed, unlike the West Bank.
“Airbnb took a decision in the right direction to stop dealings with Israeli settlements, consistent with international legitimacy,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior official with the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters.
“Erdan’s incitement comes in the course of continued attempts by the Israeli extremist government to intimidate companies, parties and individuals who try to try to take good decisions that agree with international resolutions.”
Human Rights Watch hailed Airbnb’s decision and, in a report on Tuesday, called on Booking.com to follow suit.
Booking.com and Airbnb did not immediately respond to Reuters emails seeking fresh comment.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, addressing Wednesday’s conference separately, backed Erdan’s call to boycott Airbnb and suggested Israel also deploy its own anti-discrimination laws.
Israel has said it would turn to the Trump administration and could back lawsuits against Airbnb within U.S. states that have legislated against anti-Israel boycotts.
In Israel, one 2017 law empowers courts to award cash compensation to claimants who prove they have been denied goods or services because of where they live.
“I checked yesterday with my office, with the attorney-general, whether we can operate this law, and the answer is positive,” Shaked said. “We need to do anything we can in order to fight them back in order that they will change their decision.”
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff)