The Texas Comptroller’s office said Tuesday it’s reviewing the inclusion of Airbnb on a list of companies that boycott Israel and are banned from doing business with the state after the company announced a change to its policy for listings in the West Bank.
The home-sharing company said in a statement that it’s reversing a plan announced this November to remove about 200 rental listings from the territory, whose ownership is disputed by Palestinians. The company said it will donate the profits to humanitarian aid groups.
“Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform,” the company said in the statement. “We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.”
The company’s decision to delist the properties had prompted the state last month to blacklist it in keeping with a 2017 law that bans state agencies from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel. The law was touted by Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, as a way to show solidarity with Israel.
See here for the background. As I’ve said before, governments base policy decisions on who they do and don’t want to do business with all the time, so this policy is in and of itself not remarkable. It’s dumb and misguided, but not unusual. It’s also led to some other consequences.
Texas state agencies are beginning to divest nearly $72 million worth of stock in a company said to be boycotting Israel — the first financial move after a year-old law that bars Texas agencies from investing in such companies.
Two major state pension funds — the Employees Retirement System of Texas and Texas Permanent School Fund —own $68 million and about $4 million, respectively, worth of stock in DNB ASA, a Norwegian financial services company, officials said, though the company has denied it boycotts Israel.
The Comptroller’s office, upon the advice of two contracted consulting groups, identified four companies as having boycotted Israel, though all of them deny that they engage in any punitive ban.
Employees Retirement System spokeswoman Mary Jane Wardlow said the fund began divesting March 1, 2018, when it had about $68 million invested in DNB, and as of early April had divested about half that amount. Divestment should be complete by June, Wardlow said.
The Texas Permanent School Fund did not respond to a request for information on its divestment.
The state has no direct holdings in any of the other three companies on its divestment list, according to notifications to the state obtained by Hearst Newspapers.
Two of the six state agencies affected by the law —Texas County and District Retirement System and Texas Municipal Retirement System — had indirect investments in DNB, records show.
And three of the six state agencies affected by the law — the Employees Retirement System of Texas, Texas Municipal Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System of Texas — had indirect investments in Airbnb. (The only agency to disclose how much, ERS, had about $460,000-worth.)
But the law doesn’t require state governmental entities to divest from indirect holdings. It only requires them to send letters to the managers of the investment fund in question and request that they remove blacklisted companies from the fund or create a similar fund without those companies.
If the manager can’t come up with a fund with “substantially the same management fees and same level of investment risk and anticipated return,” the law requires no further action.
I mean, I don’t think this was a good idea, but if you do, then this is what you signed up for.