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Airbnb Sued in San Francisco for Barring Listings in Israeli Settlements

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco-based short-term rental company Airbnb has been sued in federal court over a policy that the plaintiffs of the lawsuit say discriminates against Jewish people.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in San Francisco by attorney's David Schultz and L. Marc Zell on behalf of six plaintiffs: Eve and Earl Harow of Efrat, Israel; Fay and Neal Shapiro of Los Angeles; and Joel Taubman of Scottsdale, Ariz.

AirBnB Home Rental Israel
A guest house advertised on the Airbnb international home-sharing site in Nofei Prat settlement in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov 2016)

The lawsuit stems from a policy adopted by Airbnb back in November to bar listings from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank area.

The policy is discriminatory, the suit alleges, because it applies only to the residents of the Israeli towns of Judea and Samaria and not to listings from any Arab or Palestinian towns in the region.

In a statement, Zell said, "Airbnb is eyeing the Israeli market to increase its offerings in the Middle East. It is inconceivable that Airbnb would at the same time alter its longstanding policy against complying with the anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement by delisting Jewish/Israeli accommodations in Judea and Samaria, while continuing to permit Arab homeowners located literally across the road to participate in the Airbnb program. This lawsuit aims to put an end to this nefarious policy."

The suit further alleges that the company adopted the policy because of pressure from international organization Human Rights Watch, which has claimed that Israel engages in discriminatory practices against Palestinians.

In a statement from November, when the policy went into effect, Airbnb said that ultimately its decision to remove listings from "occupied territories" was not an easy one and was made after spending "considerable time speaking with various experts.

"As a global platform operating in 191 counties and regions and more than 81,000 cities, we must consider the impact we have and act responsibly," Airbnb officials said.

"When we applied our decision-making framework, we concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective. This is a controversial issue," the statement said.

Airbnb maintained that it is not boycotting Israel and has more than 20,000 listings in other Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv.

The lawsuit alleges that Airbnb's policy violates the federal Fair Housing Act, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, California's Unruh Civil Rights Act and California's unfair competition law. The suit is seeking unspecified damages, a court order to prohibit Airbnb from the enacting the policy and a declaration that the policy is unlawful.

© 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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