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Florida to remove Airbnb from ‘banned companies’ list after Israel reversal

DeSantis says he supports it, and the Cabinet is scheduled to take it up in June.
With the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop, Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters ahead of the first-full day of a Florida trade delegation trip to Israel. [Florida Governor's Office]
With the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop, Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters ahead of the first-full day of a Florida trade delegation trip to Israel. [Florida Governor's Office]
Published May 29, 2019

Florida officials are scheduled to remove Airbnb from a log of blacklisted companies roughly two months after the company reversed itself over allowing listings in Israeli settlements.

State officials will recommend next month that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet remove Airbnb from the Florida’s list of “scrutinized companies,” a list of corporations that are banned from entering into agreements with state agencies or local governments.

DeSantis has already said he supports removing Airbnb from the list, mentioning it multiple times during his high-profile trip to Israel this week.

“I don’t want to penalize a company for doing the right thing,” DeSantis said. “They made a bad decision but they rectified the error and that’s what we want to see.”

The Airbnb flap comes at a time of heightened partisanship on the issue of Israel. DeSantis, who is describing his Israeli trip as a trade mission, is expected to sign a bill that would require schools to prohibit anti-Semitism and broadly define what the offense is by including “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel.”

Meanwhile, Democratic senators have accused President Donald Trump, who endorsed DeSantis, of fomenting hatred that has led to shootings at two synagogues in the last year.

And while Democrats and Republicans have accused Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Michigan of using anti-Semitic tropes, anti-Semitism is rising on the far right in America and in Europe, most notably during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, where men wielding tiki torches shouted “Jews will not replace us.”

But why was Airbnb on the list in the first place?

DeSantis led the charge to add the home-rental company to the “scrutinized companies” list in January, after Airbnb in November announced it would remove 200 listings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The company was urged to delist in the contested territory by both Palestinian officials and the nonprofit Human Rights Watch, which had written a report accusing the company of helping “make West Bank settlements more profitable and therefore sustainable.”

Airbnb said it was removing the listings because the settlements were at the “core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Airbnb’s decision drew opposition from Israeli leaders and conservative politicians, including DeSantis, who equate criticism of Israel or its foreign policy to anti-Semitism. They accused Airbnb of taking part in the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, which seeks to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians,” according to the movement’s website.

The company clarified its stance, pointing out that it’s not taking part in the BDS movement because it still offered its service in Israel. It was only in the settlements, company officials said, that it was removing its service.

But that explanation didn’t dissuade DeSantis, who has made championing Israel a priority in his early governorship. In January, he quickly moved to add the company to Florida’s list of “scrutinized companies”. One way for a company to make that list is to boycott Israel.

What other companies are on the state’s ‘scrutinized’ list?

In addition to companies that boycott Israel, the ban also applies to companies that have various dealings with Cuba, Syria and Iran.

That’s led to more than 60 companies making into the list, many based in China and Russia. But most of them you’ve likely never heard of, with the possible exception of the Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom.

Airbnb is by far the best-known company on the list.

Was Airbnb hurt by being on Florida’s ‘scrutinized’ list?

It appears not, beyond a little bad publicity.

Being on the list didn’t prevent Airbnb from operating in Florida.

It did prevent state agencies from investing in Airbnb. But Airbnb isn’t publicly traded, so that issue was moot.

If anything, Airbnb’s placement on the scrutinized list was more of an inconvenience for state officials than the company. Because it’s on the list, the company can’t enter into agreements worth $1 million or more with state or local governments.

That posed a serious problem for the Florida Department of Revenue and various local counties that have contracts with Airbnb to collect bed taxes. Whether state Revenue officials had to stop collecting taxes from Airbnb is unclear — department spokespeople didn’t respond to questions about it Tuesday.

Airbnb had 90 days to reverse its policy before state agencies had to react to the listing. The company changed little more than a month later.

On April 9, the company announced it wouldn’t carry out its policy of removing listings from the settlements. Instead, it would allow listings in Israeli settlements but would donate profits from those listings to humanitarian aid organizations that are not located in Israel or Palestine.

“Airbnb recognizes that there are many other disputed territories around the world,” the company said in a statement. “The company will rely upon our previously identified framework to evaluate these areas.”

Did Florida cause Airbnb to reverse itself?

We don’t know. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

But it’s more likely that international outrage and high-profile lawsuits against the company had more to do with Airbnb’s decision than the actions of Florida’s Cabinet.

According to a New York Times story about Airbnb’s decision, which didn’t mention Florida, the company had just settled four lawsuits in the United States and Israel claiming the company’s new policy was discriminatory.

One of the lawsuits, for example, was filed by 12 American Jewish families living in the West Bank who claimed the policy discriminated against them based on their religion, according to the Times.

What happens next?

Since Airbnb gave up on its policy in April, Florida’s State Board of Administration is going to recommend at the June 4 Cabinet meeting that Airbnb be removed from the list.

The Cabinet is likely to approve it.


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