Jewish-American users of Airbnb have accused the home-rental website in Delaware federal court of religious discrimination following the company’s controversial decision earlier this month to remove listings for properties in the West Bank.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the plaintiffs said Airbnb’s move to de-list 200 homes in “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank” had singled out Jews and Israelis on the basis of race, religion and national origin in violation of U.S. law.
“Plaintiffs have been injured and continue to be injured and suffer damage by Airbnb’s illegal and discriminatory practice and policy of excluding from its brokerage and booking services and platform properties,” attorneys from U.S. and Israeli law firms wrote in the 11-page complaint.
Airbnb announced its new policy Nov. 19, after an internal debate over whether to do business in “disputed regions.” The company said it received input from experts on both side of the issue but ultimately decided to pull listings in settlements that are “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Airbnb said in the announcement that it was committed to fighting discrimination on its platform. The company’s press department did not respond Friday to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the suit include 11 Jewish Airbnb users who had used the service to rent out residential properties in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967. The group also includes users who regularly rented, or planned to rent, properties that are now excluded from Airbnb’s service.
They said in the complaint that Airbnb bowed to pressure from anti-Semitic groups “intentionally, willfully and in disregard of the federally protected rights of others.” According to the filing, Airbnb knew at the time of its announcement that the removed listing would be owned “predominantly, if not exclusively,” by Jews and Israelis.
The complaint alleges violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, which bars discrimination by listing services on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. It seeks punitive and compensatory damages and an order preventing Airbnb from discriminating on its platform and services.
Airbnb had previously removed listings in Crimea as a result of international sanctions. However, the decision in the West Bank has sparked criticism from American politicians, and the company is facing at least three lawsuits over the move.
Airbnb has said that it has developed a framework for evaluating how the company would treat listings in “occupied” territories, which it would continue to apply in the future. The company operates in more than 81,000 cities in 191 countries and regions across the globe.
The plaintiffs are represented by Robert J. Tolchin of The Berkman Law Office in New York and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Nitsana Darshan-Leitner & Co. in Petah Tikva, Israel. David S. Eagle and Sean M. Brennecke are listed as local counsel in the case.
An online docket-tracking service did not list attorneys Friday for Airbnb.
The case is captioned Silber v. Airbnb.