Airbnbs West Bank listings draw S.F. protest at Fidelity

The several dozen protesters who held signs and chanted slogans outside the downtown San Francisco offices of Fidelity Investments said it was their latest effort to pressure Airbnb to stop listing rentals in the West Bank.

Fidelity is one of several private equity companies with investments in Airbnb, the San Francisco-based company whose website is used by residents in nearly 200 countries to rent out their homes and apartments on a short-term basis.

The June 3 demonstration was part of what organizers called a “day of action” that also included protests at Fidelity offices in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and four other cities.

“This is another part of our ongoing campaign to get Airbnb to change its practices … in the occupied territories,” said Jewish Voice for Peace volunteer and protest coordinator Alexei Folger, who added that a similar protest took place at Airbnb’s headquarters in March. “We’re just looking for other ways to influence them.”

Protesters want Airbnb to stop listing West Bank rentals. photo/arno rosenfeld

The protest was part of a campaign led by the Stolen Homes Coalition — eight groups including Jewish Voice for Peace. They object to Airbnb allowing listings in Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The coalition says the settlements are illegal under international law, and that Airbnb is profiting from the commissions it charges for such rentals.

Folger said demonstrators object to Airbnb listings that describe West Bank rentals as being in Israel.

“If you’re not that familiar with geography you could pick a place that looks close to Jerusalem … and it says Israel, and you book it and then when you go through the checkpoint at the entrance you discover you’re in a settlement,” Folger said.

Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said in an email that the company follows local laws.

“Hosts determine how their listing is described, and we urge all hosts to provide accurate information about where their listing is located so guests know what to expect,” Papas said.

Adam Banker, a Fidelity spokesman, said in an email, “Our funds invest in thousands of companies around the world and it’s our longstanding practice not to discuss specific fund investments or investment decisions. We respect everyone’s right to choose how they invest their money.”

The demonstration took place on the corner of Montgomery and Market streets in San Francisco’s Financial District. Protesters handed out leaflets asking people to tell Fidelity to “stop investing in Airbnb’s stolen homes.” The demonstrators used a loudspeaker to chant slogans such as: “Fidelity — you can’t hide from apartheid.”

One man objected to the protest, screaming profanities and called the demonstrators “Nazis.”

Folger and two other protesters entered the Fidelity branch during the demonstration to deliver a petition they said included more than 150,000 signatures collected online asking for Airbnb to stop listing rentals in the West Bank.