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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


January 25, 2019  RSS feed
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Gov. DeSantis orders sanctioning Airbnb for West Bank snub

Jewish Press staff and JTA news service

At an event hosted by the South Palm Beach Jewish Federation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proclaimed the Israeli people have “no better friend than Florida,” by announcing a series of actions, most notably that the state would retaliate against Airbnb for its decision to remove rental listings in West Bank Jewish settlements.

The Airbnb announcement was commended by chairs of the Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRC) on both sides of Tampa Bay.

Airbnb announced in November that it would remove the listings of some 200 apartments and homes for rent in the settlements, but not in Palestinian communities. The company said it consulted with experts to learn about the historical disputes in the region to decide whether it should be doing business in “the occupied territories.” In DeSantis’ Jan. 15 announcement, he said the state would suspend use of Airbnb for state-paid travel and consider preventing its pension fund from investing in the firm. Airbnb is not publicly traded but reportedly is planning to go public as early as June, or at least by 2020, according to trade publications.

“We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy; it does target Jews specifically,” DeSantis said.

“The governor is saying that the state is not going to tolerate this delegitimization of Israel. … He is saying the state of Florida is going to draw the line,” said Jonathan Ellis, chair of the JCRC for the Tampa JCCs and Federation. He said the governor’s actions are in keeping with state legislation not to award contracts to companies that boycott Israel and not to invest in countries such as Iran and the Sudan that support terrorist activities.

Ellis’ counterpart, Aliza Norstein, chair of the JCRC for the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties, agreed. “We applaud Gov. DeSantis’ decision to no longer use Airbnb for state-paid travel,” she said.

Calling Airbnb’s decision in the West Bank hypocritical when it continues to list properties in others countries with terrible human rights records like China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Yemen and Somalia, Norstein said, “Florida has taken a strong stance against the anti-Semitic and anti-peace movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) which has waged a campaign against Airbnb for two years. We hope that the governor’s actions encourage Airbnb to educate themselves further on the Arab-Israeli conflict and reconsider their discriminatory decision to single out Jewish owned properties and instead help to promote a dialogue and peaceful coexistence between the Israelis and the Palestinians instead of driving them further apart.”

Airbnb operates in 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities. A brief check by JTA on Wednesday, Jan. 16, on its website shows that rentals in West Bank Jewish settlements remain listed.

Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Gilad Erdan, praised the DeSantis announcement, calling it “an important decision that will embolden the fight against anti- Semitic boycott organizations. We will continue to act in all possible ways to nullify the bigoted decision discriminating against citizens of the state of Israel and harming them financially because of where they live.”

Erdan, who heads a committee of Israeli government ministers charged with countering the Airbnb decision, last month sent letters to five governors in the United States, including DeSantis, urging them to express their opposition to the Airbnb decision and to take economic measures against the company.

The Christians United for Israel Action Fund issued a statement supporting DeSantis’ announcement.

“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,” CUFI said.

Florida apparently is the first government in the U.S. to take immediate action against Airbnb. In December, the state of Illinois gave Airbnb 90 days to respond to a warning that it is in violation of its investment anti-BDS investment policy.

In addition to the Airbnb pronouncement DeSantis told the South Florida audience that he would be by seeking $2 million in recurring funding for security at Florida Jewish day schools and announced that he would travel with a state delegation on a trade mission to Israel in May, his first as governor.

On the funding for security at Jewish schools, Norstein said, “School safety is not a Jewish issue but a human one. I hope that similar efforts are being made across Florida to keep children, faculty, and staff safe in their schools.”

Ellis said the governor is “making a statement” with announcing support for continuing funding for security at Jewish day schools by acknowledging students at Jewish schools are potential targets. After the attack that left 11 slain at a Pittsburgh synagogue, solely because the victims were Jewish, Ellis “It is hard for anyone to take a position otherwise.”

He also noted that DeSantis is following the lead of his predecessor, Rick Scott, who also approved funding for security needs.

“By calling for increased security for our Jewish Day Schools, punishing companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and taking my first trade mission to Israel, the Israeli people can be assured that they have no greater friend than Florida,” DeSantis said. “BDS is nothing more than a cloak for anti-Semitism, and as long as I’m governor, BDS will be DOA. I cannot wait to strengthen the already unwavering bond between Florida and the great state of Israel.”

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