The campaign against RE/MAX, an American real estate firm that sells apartments in the settlements Israel is building in the occupied West Bank, is growing.
Last week, activists from around the US traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, to demonstrate at and disrupt RE/MAX’s annual convention held at the Mandalay Bay Casino and Hotel.
“The fact that it is known that RE/MAX is helping to facilitate the settlement expansion within the West Bank makes this moment important for folks across the globe to expose and target huge multinational corporations making money off the occupation,” Sophia Armen told The Electronic Intifada. Armen is the national coordinator of the Boycott RE/MAX: No Open House on Stolen Land campaign.
Last fall, the anti-war group Codepink launched an international campaign targeting the real estate franchise, RE/MAX International, for its maitenance of an Israeli branch that sells and rents homes in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank. One of the firm’s offices is based in Maale Adumim, a sprawling Israeli settlement.
Since then, the campaign has targeted all levels of the corporation — petitioning David Liniger, its chief executive, and directly speaking to local RE/MAX realtors to apprise them of the controversial work their company is undertaking on occupied Palestinian land.
In Las Vegas last week, more than 6,000 RE/MAX realtors from around fifty countries descended on the Mandalay Bay Casino to take part in three days of networking games and listen to “inspirational” speeches. Peyton Manning, a young star of American football, gave the keynote presentation and Steven Tyler, frontman of the rock band Aerosmith, performed.
Boycott RE/MAX activists maintained a protest camp outside the convention, while some entered the hotel to speak directly with realtors about RE/MAX’s overseas activities. Most of those who entered the casino were swiftly removed, and one person was arrested during the demonstrations.
“We were purposefully kicked out because they didn’t want realtors to know about our campaign,” Armen said. She believes internal pressure from RE/MAX realtors will be a crucial factor in waging the campaign.
RE/MAX has said little about the controversy apart from issuing a brief statement last year.
The statement asserted that RE/MAX is not responsibile for its franchise offices and tried to give the impression that it was scaling down its actitivities in the West Bank, claiming the firm has reduced its number of offices there from four to one. However, the statement did not acknowledge that a RE/MAX office in West Jerusalem is involved in selling apartments in occupied East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.
“Hoping to whitewash”
A report submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013 explains that the Colorado-based company plays an active role in its international franchises.
Richard Falk, the paper’s author and then a UN special rapporteur on Palestine, noted that RE/MAX International provided its franchises with brand recognition, ongoing training and various resources. His report indicated that RE/MAX was handling properties in nine Israeli settlements during 2013.
The UN report asserts that RE/MAX International, headquartered in Denver, can be held responsible for its franchises’ violations of international law.
The violations involve helping to transfer the population of an occupying power into the territory that it occupies. Falk also concluded that the company is vulnerable to civil litigation in the United States.
“They [the firm’s leaders] are just hoping to whitewash RE/MAX’s complicity in settler colonialism and they are essentially hoping to wait out the campaign,” Armen told The Electronic Intifada.
“We are now escalating tactics because we see that RE/MAX is knowingly doing this,” Armen said.
Jumana, a Palestinian grad student at University of California Los Angeles, told The Electronic Intifada that she entered the RE/MAX convention with relative ease, but knew security had marked her from the beginning.
“Being brown, the police quickly zoned in on us,” she said. After Jumana placed a stack of stickers in the first bathroom, security officers swiftly intervened, immediately reading her and her fellow activists the Trespassing Act, ordering them to leave the premises and never to return.
Armen said the heavy presence of private security and local police at the convention was indicative of the company’s concerns about being targeted by the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
The campaign is asking people around the world to boycott RE/MAX realtors, encourage their franchises to sign a letter urging the company to pull out of the occupied West Bank and reach out to the company’s shareholders.