JERUSALEM — Amnesty International’s demand that four of the world’s leading digital travel companies stop listing Israeli hotels and attractions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem was fiercely attacked as anti-Semitic on Wednesday by Israeli leaders, who said it was another attempt to deny Jewish heritage and delegitimize Israel.
A new report by the rights group focuses on Booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Airbnb, calling the online platforms complicit in human rights abuses for listing rooms and activities in Israeli settlements, which are built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Palestinians hope that the disputed land, including East Jerusalem, will one day become part of a future Palestinian state. They say the settlements, and efforts to bolster tourism to them, will end up “normalizing” the Israeli occupation.
“Renting out a room in someone’s home in a settlement is not harmless,” said Mark Dummett, a business and human rights researcher at Amnesty International. “Providing these listing and profiting from these listings contributes to sustaining the settlements and profiting from human rights violations.”
Dummett said all four of the companies were aware that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were illegal under international law. He said the settlements were “also the root cause of a vast range of human rights violations suffered by Palestinian communities.”
Booking.com and Expedia responded to the claims saying their platforms for listings were transparent. Airbnb and TripAdvisor chose not to respond.
According to data published by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, there are more than 200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The four digital travel companies combined list more than 400 tours, restaurants, cafes, hotels and rental apartments in these Israeli communities, according to the Amnesty report.
“Israel’s unlawful seizure of Palestinian land and expansion of settlements perpetuates immense suffering, pushing Palestinians out of their homes, destroying their livelihoods and depriving them of basics like drinking water,” Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s director of global thematic Issues, wrote in the report.
Joshi said the Israeli government uses the growing tourism industry in the settlements to legitimize their existence and expansion.
“Online booking companies are playing along with this agenda,” she said.
Amnesty did commend San Francisco-based Airbnb for announcing last November that it would delist Israeli properties located in the West Bank. It called on the online lodging marketplace to also remove Israeli rooms for rent in East Jerusalem.
Since deciding to exclude Israeli settlements, however, Airbnb has faced a sharp backlash in the United States, sparking lawsuits by Israel’s supporters and legislation aimed at penalizing companies that comply with calls to boycott Israel.
On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the State Board of Administration voted to place Airbnb on a list of scrutinized businesses that boycott Israel — a step toward economic sanctions, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“As Florida’s decision re @Airbnb shows, surrendering to BDS now comes with a price,” tweeted Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office is tasked with countering boycott efforts worldwide. He referred to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS.
Erdan called the Amnesty report “outrageous” and said the organization has “become a leader in the anti-Semitic #BDS campaign.”
The BDS movement aims to pressure Israel into complying with international law vis-a-vis its policies toward the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The movement is active in discouraging the purchase of Israeli goods, pressuring international companies not to conduct business in Israel and urging celebrities not to visit or perform in the country.
The campaign has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, with Israel increasingly viewing its activities as a strategic threat. It says the campaign is anti-Semitic and actively promotes Israel’s demise by denying its basic right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
Emmanuel Navon, a senior fellow at the right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum, said Amnesty was unfairly singling out Israel in its report.
“It is clear Amnesty has an obsession when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the fact that this conflict is a complex one and previous attempts to solve it have failed,” he said. “There must be some kind of political pressure on Amnesty which would explain why it singles out Israel and does not have a similar policy for other areas of conflict such as Cyprus and Western Sahara.”
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, welcomed Amnesty’s report, saying it provides “further information about a reality that we have been denouncing for years.”
“Israel continues to use tourism as a tool to normalize its illegal occupation and colonization of Palestine,” he said. “We reiterate our call upon the international community to respect its obligations under international law, beginning by releasing tourism guidelines to ensure that their citizens and companies do not contribute to the Israeli colonial-settlement enterprise.”
Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a statement that tourism to the area that Israelis call Judea and Samaria is at an all-time high. He said that was the best way to fight back against all boycott attempts.
“No force in the world will change the simple historical truth — the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” he said. “We will fight this despicable anti-Semitic report and will not permit anyone to boycott Israel or parts of it.”