Airbnb Policies No Longer Reflect Anti-Semitism; Company’s about to Get Florida Back

By JOHN HAUGHEY THE CENTER SQUARE for Sunshine State News

Airbnb is now back in the good graces of the Sunshine State and could be formally removed from Florida’s list of “scrutinized” companies in June.

Airbnb, which lists more 45,000 Florida properties on its website, in November eliminated listings of about 200 properties on the West Bank, a flash point in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, but Israel disputes that determination.

Within days of assuming office following his November election, Gov. Ron DeSantis called the policy “dumb” and “discriminatory” and said it was in violation of a 2018 Florida law – House Bill 545 – that imposes penalties, including divestment, on companies involved in the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement” against Israel.

“We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy,” DeSantis said in January. “It does target Jews specifically. When you target Jews for disfavored treatment, that is the essence of anti-Semitism. In Florida, as long as I’m the governor, BDS will be D.O.A.”

Airbnb reversed the policy in April.

“I welcome that,” DeSantis told reporters last Monday, his second full day in a visit to Israel. “I don’t know what we have to do procedurally – if we take another vote or if we can do it unilaterally – but they shouldn’t be penalized for doing the right thing.”

The State Board of Administration, which oversees state pension investments, can formally “re-list” Airbnb the next time it meets. The board is comprised of three-fourths of the Florida Cabinet – DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody — which next convenes in Tallahassee on June 13.

Florida’s scrutinized-companies list prohibits state investment in firms that boycott Israel. While Airbnb was on the list, Florida employees, state contractors and vendors could not be reimbursed for Airbnb stays while traveling. Other sanctions were contemplated but not enacted.

In reversing its policy in April, Airbnb in a statement said: “We understand the complexity of the issue that was addressed in our previous policy announcement. Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform. We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.“

The company said it would donate all proceeds from rentals in the West Bank to humanitarian organizations.

During a lunch reception at Ariel University’s West Bank campus, the school’s President Yehuda Danon praised DeSantis for his stance.

“Your position and your action changed the mind of the people at Airbnb,” Danon said.

“I never had it out for Airbnb. I never used Airbnb, but I always thought they had a neat thing,” DeSantis said before calling the policy “discriminatory.”

Airbnb reported short-term rentals offered through its digital platform drew 4.5 million guests to Florida and generated more than $810 million in rental income for hosts in 2018.

It remitted $33 million to the state and $12.7 million to counties it has tax collection contracts with in 2018, including $3.3 million to Miami-Dade, $1.9 million to Broward, $1.9 million to Pinellas and $1.8 million to Orange counties.

Ten Florida counties saw at least 100,000 Airbnb guests and at least $22 million in Airbnb rental revenues in 2018, according to the company.

John Haughey is the Florida contributor to The Center Square.

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