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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ to Execute Sanctions Against Airbnb – Campaign Opposed to Discrimination Against Jews Gains Traction

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis giving a speech on Jan. 15, 2019, at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, calling for increased Jewish day school security funding, in addition to touting pro-Israel initiatives. Credit: Gov. Ron DeSantis Press Office.

On Tuesday, January 15th, the campaign calling on the room booking platform Airbnb to revert their ill- conceived decision to place a ban of Jewish hosts in the Judea and Samaria region of Israel gained a formidable sense of gravitas when newly elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that state sanctions may be imposed against businesses that engage in the BDS movement.

Surrounded by a group of bipartisan legislators and faith leaders at an event hosted by the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County; Governor DeSantis announced several actions his administration is taking to affirm Florida’s steadfast support of the State of Israel.

“BDS is nothing more than a cloak for anti-Semitism, and as long as I’m governor, BDS will be dead on arrival. I cannot wait to strengthen the already unwavering bond between Florida and the great State of Israel,” Governor DeSantis declared.

“Airbnb claims it’s a company of inclusion and yet this policy only affects Jews who have homes on the West Bank. It doesn’t appear to apply to anyone else on the face of the earth,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.

He added: “We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy. It does target Jews specifically. I think that’s wrong.”

Governor DeSantis wrote a letter instructing the Department of Management Services (DMS) to prohibit state workers and contractors from being reimbursed for official travel expenses incurred through the services of Airbnb. On November 19, 2018, Airbnb issued a statement outlining a policy that would no longer allow the rental of approximately 200 listings in Judea and Samaria, a clear indicator of blatant discrimination against the Jewish residents of Israel. In addition to the Governor’s letter, the State Board of Administration (SBA) is reviewing whether Airbnb should be placed on the scrutinized company list. Once the review is completed, they will issue a report to SBA Trustees, Governor DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and CFO Jimmy Patronis.

In his letter to David Clark, the Chief of Staff of Florida’s Department of Management Services, Governor DeSantis wrote:

“This letter is to instruct the Department of Management Services to immediately modify the protocol for the reimbursement of expenses incurred by employees and contractors of the State of Florida in response to policies undertaken by Airbnb against the Israeli people.

Airbnb has engaged in actions that I believe commercially discriminate against Israel and that violate the laws of the State of Florida. These actions are regrettable and require a response from this Administration. We cannot allow taxpayer dollars to be spent supporting an organization with anti-Israeli policies.

Effective immediately, state workers are prohibited from being reimbursed for expenses incurred through the services of Airbnb while on official state business, and all contracts let by the state from this date forward shall prohibit such expenses. I further instruct you to review all current contracts between vendors and the State of Florida to determine which contracts allow for reimbursement of expenses and, where allowed by the terms of the contract, immediately notify those contractors of this change in policy.

The State Board of Administration is currently reviewing Airbnb’s policies to determine if it should be placed on the scrutinized companies list. I reserve the authority to impose further restrictions against Airbnb and revoke any agreements between the State and Airbnb, within my authority as Governor of the State of Florida and by the laws of this state, should Airbnb continue its policy of commercial discrimination against Israel.    

Florida is a pro-Israel state and will not look favorably on companies that target Israel for disfavored treatment. My hope is that I can revisit this issue in a more positive way once Airbnb rescinds its misguided policy.” 

In a telephone interview, Rep. Randy Fine (R-FL) who represents district 53 in South Brevard County in the Florida House of Representatives said that “Florida has a zero-tolerance policy towards those who would discriminate against others, and that includes Airbnb.”

While Rep. Fine said that it is his fervent hope that Airbnb will ultimately rescind their decision to ban Jewish hosts in Judea and Samaria will reinstate their listings, he is prepared to go the distance to ensure that the rights of those he represents are protected. “There are Jewish residents in my district who own homes in Judea and Samaria and their civil rights have been flagrantly violated by Airbnb. This company seeks to impose punitive economic measures against them and I can tell you most assuredly that I will never remain silent in the face of his display of bigotry.”

Rep. Fine added that on January 29th, the Florida state legislature will vote on whether Airbnb merits being placed on a list of companies that will be scrutinized for their discriminatory ban. “After conducting a thorough probe of Airbnb, the legislature will cast their votes. If it is decided that Airbnb is singling out a particular group for a boycott then that would translate into a bill that will mandate that all state agencies, across the board, from municipalities and local agencies to those on a larger scale to not conduct any business whatsoever with Airbnb and that would also mean that the state will not invest its pension funds into the company when it goes public later this year.”

In December, The Washington Free Beacon reported that an independent board in Illinois voted to notify Airbnb that it is violating state laws barring the economic boycott of Israel.

Thus, Illinois became the first state to take firm action against Airbnb.

Israel National News reported that at the request of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, the Illinois Investment Policy Board Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions, which includes appointees of the governor and representatives of the state pension board, unanimously voted to notify Airbnb that it is in violation of state laws. Shortly thereafter, the full board also unanimously voted to notify Airbnb, which now has 60 days to respond before it is blacklisted in Illinois.

One former top Illinois state official who was involved in creating anti-BDS legislation mandating Illinois divest from any company backing Israel boycotts, the nation’s first, told The Free Beacon that a blacklisting by the state could negatively impact Airbnb when it goes public in the near future.

“This is a watershed moment for anti-BDS laws in America,” the source said. “If I’m an investor looking at a possible IPO next year, this is very worrisome.”

Quite true. With an IPO due this spring, Airbnb will face the reality that many state pension plans will be unable to invest, banks will be reluctant to participate, and there will be numerous lawsuits because of federal and state laws against participating in anti-Israel boycotts.

Responding to Governor DeSantis’ position on Airbnb, former New York State Assemblyman and  chairman of the Coalition for a Positive America Dov Hikind said “The question now is will our very own governor of New York who likes to proudly proclaim his pro-Israel credentials courageously follow suit? Or will he choose to remain silent? My hope is that he’ll do the right thing.”

Assemblyman Hikind who represented the largest district of Jewish residents in New York for 35 years added, “There are currently more than 50 ‘disputed territories’ around the world, from Tibet to Crimea, but Airbnb singled out the Jewish State of Israel for targeted removal. “Only the Jewish listings were removed. If it’s truly a ‘disputed territory’ why didn’t they simply remove all listings from the disputed area until the conflict is resolved? We’ve seen boycotts of Jews and Jewish businesses before, but we won’t jump to making that comparison just yet. Airbnb, as well as our government, still have time to correct their course before we’re left with but one conclusion.”

Earlier this week, the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization that is comprised of millions of stalwart supporters of the Jewish state weighed in on the Airbnb issue with their own statement.

CUFI Action Fund Chairwoman Sandra Parker said in statement sent to the media, “The CUFI Action Fund strongly supports the measures Governor DeSantis’s administration is taking to sanction Airbnb for its anti-Semitic policy of de-listing Jewish owned properties in the West Bank. State and local governments should continue to take decisive measures to limit Airbnb’s ability to operate unless and until this bigoted policy is reversed.”

In a December 20th article that appeared on the Investor’s Daily Business web site, Ms. Parker wrote, “Airbnb attempted to claim a thoughtful and nuanced moral high ground. They justified their decision by noting the disputed nature of the West Bank.  They’re not singling out Jews, they imply, they’re merely adopting a policy on disputed territories.

But that’s not true. Not only does Airbnb have listings in other disputed territories, including Kashmir, northern Cypress, Tibet and Nagorno-Karabakh, the company hasn’t de-listed all properties in the West Bank — just those owned by Jews.

Airbnb’s policy is neither thoughtful nor nuanced; rather it is repugnant and bigoted. The company’s justifications are hollow. And, in many states, it places the company in the crosshairs of elected officials that have had enough of thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.”

Ms. Parker added that, “Likewise, Christians United for Israel — the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization — has been in contact with senior officials in our home state of Texas and elsewhere. And the feedback we’ve received is unanimous: Airbnb’s new policy runs afoul of laws prohibiting certain states from investing public funds in companies that boycott Israel or territories under its control.

That’s bad news for the banks and private equity firms preparing for Airbnb’s IPO who can expect valuations to drop in response to a steady flow of state-based actions against the company. And it’s bad news for future shareholders who will not be joined in their investment by large public pension funds that are prohibited in many states from making investments in companies that boycott Israel. Texas alone has a $150 billion teacher’s pension fund.”

In a letter dated December 14, 2018, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wrote to Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb:

“I am writing with respect to Airbnb’s recent announcement that it will remove listings from in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. As a statewide elected official in New York, home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel, I am deeply troubled by Airbnb’s announcement and its possible impact on Jewish communities in New York and throughout the world.

Airbnb’s decision has attracted a substantial amount of criticism and has drawn accusations that Airbnb is participating in so-called “Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions” (BDS) activities aimed at the State of Israel. BDS activities attempt to isolate, pressure and delegitimize Israel by urging third parties to limit commercial relations with Israelis or the State of Israel. As you may know, New York’s Governor has issued an executive order restricting the state’s business with companies that participate in BDS activities.

Although Airbnb states it does not support the BDS movement, its announced policy regarding disputed regions is only directed towards Israel; the company has not applied this policy to any other country or region.”

Mr. DiNapoli’s statement is of great significance because of the precedent that it sets to single out this one geographic area amongst numerous “disputed” territories. Despite the company’s claims that it does not support BDS and will continue to invest in Israel, the claims of victory by Palestinian, BDS, and other anti-Israel groups underscores the seriousness of this move.

On December 29th, it was reported that a group of Jewish Americans sued Airbnb Inc. in a US federal court following Airbnb’s discriminatory policy,

The plaintiffs, who are also being represented by the Shurat HaDin Law Center, have accused the company of religious discrimination, according to Reuters.

The 18 plaintiffs include Israeli-American families and individuals who said they own or wish to rent affected homes and who accuse Airbnb of “redlining” Jewish-owned properties while letting Muslims and Christians rent their homes, said the news agency.

The plaintiffs argue this effectively left Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over Judea and Samaria.

In response, Airbnb said in a statement quoted by Reuters, “We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective.”

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 US 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, according to Reuters.

At this juncture, it behooves all people of good will and those who view this egregious act of discrimination against Jews as an act of bigotry against all people, to stand up and proudly laud of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Investment Policy Board Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions for becoming the first state to present a serious challenge to Airbnb. This is the time to extend genuine plaudits to Governor Ron DeSantis for his intrepid stand on possibly blacklisting Airbnb and for his heartfelt devotion to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Governor DeSantis deserves not only our support but we must work in tandem with him to completely remedy this colossal travesty of justice.

We also owe a debt of gratitude to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for his courage and tenacity in putting Airbnb on notice that their odious policy (that is tantamount to complying with the BDS movement) will never be tolerated or accepted.

We offer our sincere appreciation to Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn who continues a lifelong commitment to boldly speaking out and taking equally bold actions when injustices are foisted upon his people. His position on Airbnb’s ban on Jews is a righteous one and one that deserves our tireless support.

We thank the millions of pro-Zionist Christians from the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization for challenging Airbnb in the court of public opinion. Our deepest admiration for Sandra Parker  and her compatriots in the CUFI Action Fund for championing the Airbnb issue with senior officials in the Texas legislature.

The floodgates have now been opened and pressure is being brought to bear on this corporate behemoth. We exhort all governors of all states in this great union to courageously step forward and demand that Airbnb rescind its discriminatory practices against Jews, lest they also be the recipients of economic sanctions.

Before Airbnb becomes a publicly traded company in the spring, let their potential investors and those hedge fund managers out there know in crystal clear terms that their decision to support a company that discriminates against Jews will come back to bite them in the proverbial back.

The campaign for real justice has just begun and it will not end until this unethical imbroglio has been duly rectified. Contact your local and state representatives and let them know that you will not be silent until those who you, the voter, put into power make it their business that your tax dollars not be used to invest in or support a company who has singled out Jews for discrimination.

Discrimination always begins with one group and spreads like a plague to others.

 

 

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