As we reported several months ago, Texas has a policy that makes it illegal for state government entities to contract with companies that boycott Israel. A speech pathologist in Pflugerville ran afoul of the policy because she refused to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Now, short-term rental company Airbnb has run into a similar conflict with the state’s law. In November, the company said it would remove 200 listings for rentals that are located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – territory whose ownership is disputed by Palestinians.
Rocky Rhodes, professor of law at South Texas College of Law in Houston, says the law’s language is broad.
“It does prohibit boycotts or refusals to do business in Israel, or any part, thereof,” Rhodes says. “So, technically, the law could apply here if you use an aggressive interpretation of it.”
Rhodes says Airbnb has yet to remove the West Bank listings. He says announcing their plans should be “wholly-protected speech.” It’s how the Texas boycott law would apply once the company removes the listings that’s unclear, he says.
“The law isn’t supposed to prevent you from advocating for a boycott,” he says. “It’s just supposed to prevent you from actually doing a boycott.”
Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar is the one who determines what counts as a violation of the boycott law, and he ruled that Airbnb did indeed violate it. Now, the company has 90 days to respond. After that, if the state decides the ban is still valid, Airbnb could sue, Rhodes says.
The law prevents the state from contracting with Airbnb and keeps Texas from investing in its stock, via pension funds or other investments. Rhodes points out that Airbnb is not a public company.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.