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Israel steps up boycott fight after Airbnb settlement ban
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KFAR ADUMIM, West Bank (AP) — Israel said Tuesday it would slap high taxes on vacation rental company Airbnb and encourage legal steps against the site over its decision to ban listings from West Bank settlements.

The threats of sanctions ramp up Israel’s fight against a global movement advocating for boycotts over the country’s treatment of the Palestinians. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, also known as BDS, has claimed a number of successes in recent years, leading Israel to identify it as a major threat.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called on Airbnb to reverse what he called a “discriminatory decision” and “disgraceful surrender” to the boycott movement, vowing that Israel would retaliate.

“If you have a policy of discrimination against Israelis you cannot earn money in Israel,” he told The Associated Press.

He also said the government would encourage hosts in West Bank settlements to sue the company to make it “pay” for its decision. Levin added that Israel would impose other restrictions on Airbnb’s operations in the country, without elaborating.

Airbnb announced on Monday that it would delist some 200 properties in the coming days and cease its operations in Israeli settlements “that are at the core of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.” The company declined to comment on the Israeli threats.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Today over 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to some 200,000 Israelis in east Jerusalem.

Most of the international community considers settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel sees the territory as disputed and says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

The boycott movement, which calls for sanctions against settlement products and companies doing business in the West Bank, has made inroads in recent years, helping to tarnish Israel’s international image and prompting it to take retaliatory measures.

Israel has enacted a law banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country. It has identified activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival.

BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

The Palestinian-led movement claims responsibility for pressuring some large companies to stop or alter operations in Israel or the West Bank, including carbonated drink maker SodaStream, French construction company Veolia and international mobile phone giant Orange.

Airbnb’s decision coincided with the publication of a Human Rights Watch report Tuesday investigating tourist rental listings in settlements by Airbnb and

Entitled “Bed-and-Breakfast on Stolen Land,” the report says that Israeli settlements’ discrimination against Palestinians uniquely violates humanitarian law and Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy. Most Palestinians must obtain a permit to enter the settlements or Israel proper and typically do so as laborers.

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine director, said that with its threatened sanctions, Israel was prioritizing its support for settlements over a thriving tourism industry in Israel proper that relies on services like Airbnb. If applied, the sanctions could affect lodging costs for thousands of tourists expected to arrive in Tel Aviv next year for the Eurovision song contest.

Shakir said the government’s response “reflects the degree to which the government is willing to go, putting the whole country’s interests at stake over its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.”

Human Rights Watch, along with Palestinian officials and other rights groups, have for years pressured Airbnb to pull out of Israeli-occupied territory.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called Airbnb’s decision an “initial positive step,” and urged the company to extend its decision to Israeli listings in east Jerusalem. The BDS movement echoed that sentiment in a statement on its website.

For settler hosts, who see their homes as an integral part of Israel, the decision triggered outrage and confusion.

Tsofiya Jacob has rented out her apartment in the Kfar Adumim settlement using Airbnb for the past year and a half to a regular rotation of European and American tourists. She advertises her rental on Airbnb as an “escape from daily tumult” in Israel, and doesn’t mention that the property, complete with a Jacuzzi and desert views, is located in the West Bank.

“I see this (community) as part of home, part of Israel,” Jacob said. “I understand the sensitivities but despite that, in my opinion, we are here.”RETAIL 

Retailers aim to pick 

up business from 

defunct, dying rivals 

NEW YORK (AP) — Toys R Us and Bon-Ton may be gone but they haven’t been forgotten.

Companies like Target and online mattress company Casper are creating playbooks to pick up market share that those and other defunct or dying retailers left behind.

Casper, for instance, is teaming up with department stores like Nordstrom to introduce pop-up mattress shops in areas where Mattress Firm, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October, had locations. And Kohl’s has been mapping out where retailers like Bon-Ton and Sears shuttered stores so it can target those customers with specific ads.

Kohl’s is also adding more beauty products, which had been an area of expertise for Bon-Ton, the York, Pennsylvania-based department store chain that closed the last of its stores in August.  Kohl’s believes one-third of its store base is benefiting from department store closings, up from one quarter a year ago.

Target CEO Brian Cornell estimated up to $100 billion in market share that’s now up for grabs — about double what he foresaw just a year ago. In response, the company is accelerating its store remodels in areas where bankrupt retailers once had stores. Target has devoted extra space at 500 of its stores for bigger toys like electric cars, playhouses and musical instruments as well as adding nearly 200 more products. About half of those locations are about five miles from former Toys R Us stores.

“We regularly look at retailers on the Moody’s credit watch list,” Cornell told reporters last month. “We think about strategies market by market.”

In 2018, there have been roughly 30 retailers that have filed for bankruptcy, including household names like Sears Holdings Corp., Mattress Firm, and David’s Bridal. That compares with 41 last year — the highest since 2011, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, a research firm. Both Toys R Us and Bon-Ton liquidated this past summer just months after trying to reorganize in bankruptcy court.

In 2008, 440 retailers filed for bankruptcy, the highest number since S&P started tracking the data.

The rampant closures don’t tell the entire story. In fact, according to research firm IHL Group, 2018 will see a net growth of more than 3,800 stores, with 12,664 stores opening this year and 8,828 shuttering. And the closings represent a concentration of retailers. This year, 16 retailers represent 66 percent of the closings, compared with 48 percent last year.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales to increase as much as 4.8 percent over 2017. The sales growth marks a slowdown from last year’s 5.3 percent but remains healthy.

Retailers should be cautious about targeting shoppers from defunct retailers, says Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.

“The trick is capitalizing on the opportunity without going overboard,” he said. For retailers like Bon-Ton and Sears, “people who were still shopping there were older and spending less.”

Sears has long ceded territory in plenty of areas like toys and clothing. Its last bastion: appliances and home improvement, both areas that home improvement retailer Lowe’s is targeting.

Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison told AP he estimates about $2.5 billion to $3 billion up for grabs in appliances; for home improvement, that figure is anywhere from $600 million to a billion dollars. Lowe’s has been expanding its appliances, and started stocking up on Craftsman tools, which Ellison thinks has attracted Sears shoppers.

Still, even as retailers scramble to fill the hole, in many cases that won’t be enough. Take Toys R Us, which had a constant supply of hot products throughout the year, not just for the holidays.

“No one is going to be able to fill the Toys R Us void,” said Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment, the maker of the highly popular LOL toys.  His overall global business has tripled, but at Little Tikes, known for its large size toys like cook kitchen sets and toy cars, business is down 11 percent, leaving its factory in Hudson, Ohio, often idle.

“I’m looking at everything possible to find other ways to fill that factory,” he added.