The Florida Cabinet made a symbolic vote Tuesday to place online booking platform Airbnb on its list of “scrutinized companies” that the state invests in.
The reason? The San Francisco-based corporation in November removed about 200 listings for lodging in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – a region that’s central in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.
A 2016 law passed by the Florida Legislature prohibits the state from working with companies that abide by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns created to protest the Israel government’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“I think that this is an example of Florida meaning what it said when it passed the anti-BDS legislation and I hope Airbnb reconsiders,” DeSantis told reporters at a press conference in the Capitol. “I think it’s a dumb policy. I think they made a mistake. Sometimes you’ve just got look in the mirror and admit you made a mistake and move on.”
The Florida Cabinet’s move is strictly symbolic – for the moment, anyway. So-called “scrutinized companies” are corporations the state is forbidden to invest in. But Florida can’t invest in Airbnb since it’s a privately-held company. There are rumors the company could go public.
DeSantis added in a statement that he has an obligation to oppose policies that “unfairly target the world’s only Jewish state and our greatest ally in the Middle East.”
DeSantis and his wife, Casey, have visited Israel and plan to go back on an official trip. They baptized their nine-month-old son Mason in water they saved from the Sea of Galilee, which features prominently in the Biblical stories of Jesus, the News Service of Florida reported. Since it was in a nondescript bottle at the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, a cleaning crew inadvertently threw it out.
Airbnb responded to news of Tuesday’s Cabinet vote, saying that company officials “unequivocally reject and oppose the BDS movement and are disappointed by today’s vote.”
“There are over 20,000 Airbnb hosts in Israel who open their doors and showcase the best of Israeli hospitality to guests from around the world, which boosts local families, businesses and communities. Our community of hosts in Israel has already welcomed more than one million guests and we will continue to invest in Israel.”
In a letter sent earlier this month to Tracy Stewart with the Florida State Board of Administration, Airbnb attorney Robert Chestnut went further in trying to explain that the company’s decision not to list properties in the West Bank does not mean they are “boycotting” under Florida law.
Chestnut listed a five-point framework on how Airbnb treats listings in disputed territories globally, including whether having Airbnb listings contributes to existing human suffering in a given region.
Airbnb continues to offer listings in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Chestnut wrote in his letter to Florida officials, and said that the decision not to have reservations in the West Bank represents fewer than one percent of listings in the region.
The West Bank is not the only disputed territory where the company declines to offer reservations. Airbnb doesn’t offer reservations in parts of the Caucasus region occupied by Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has grown over the past decade, but so have its critics, who claim it is anti-Semitic. Florida is one of more than two dozen states that have policies or laws to penalize companies that boycott Israel or its settlements.
In another move showing Florida’s solidarity with the state of Israel, the Cabinet voted Tuesday on a symbolic resolution declaring that it officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In 2017, President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.