By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – A group of Jewish Americans sued Airbnb Inc on Wednesday in U.S. federal court, accusing the home rental company of religious discrimination over its decision last week to remove listings for about 200 homes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The 18 plaintiffs, including Israeli-American families and individuals who said they own or wish to rent affected homes, accused Airbnb of “redlining” Jewish-owned properties while letting Muslims and Christians rent their homes.
They said this effectively left Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish an independent state and which Israel captured in 1967, along with East Jerusalem.
“We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective,” Airbnb said in a statement.
The complaint was filed in federal court in Delaware, where Airbnb is incorporated, and which the plaintiffs said has jurisdiction over the San Francisco-based company’s alleged violation of U.S. laws against housing discrimination.
“Airbnb has made a religion- and nationality-based decision about who can list,” Robert Tolchin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview. “It decided in the United States, ‘We will not list for Jews in the West Bank.’ It should be equal access for all.”
The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief and unspecified damages, including for lost rental income.
A separate lawsuit challenging Airbnb’s policy was filed in a Jerusalem court on Nov. 22.
The Delaware case differed by claiming that “Airbnb is violating Americans’ rights, and this can’t be argued in an Israeli court under Israeli law,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview.
Most world powers believe Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land violate international law.
Roughly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Airbnb’s delisting was announced on Nov. 19 and applies only in the West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule under Israeli military occupation.
While concluding that “companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced,” Airbnb said it had “deep respect” for the “many strong views” about what to do with disputed lands.
Palestinians in the West Bank have welcomed Airbnb’s decision.
The case is Silber et al v Airbnb Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware, No. 18-01884.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)