Ashton Kutcher came to the defense of Airbnb and its CEO Brian Chesky after a protester interrupted his talk at the company's Airbnb Open event in Los Angeles.
The actor, an investor in the company, called for "peaceful unity" after Ariel Gold, Palestine campaigner for grassroots social justice organization Code Pink, rushed the stage during his panel Saturday to speak out against Airbnb listings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
With Airbnb, "we can get to know each other and bring each other together in a peaceful unity that doesn't have borders, that doesn't discriminate against one another," said Kutcher. "You can get to know each other intimately and understand our collective narrative is a narrative for everyone and that we all can belong in a world together without borders."
The actor added: "While I can appreciate that this doesn't happen seamlessly, I can appreciate that it doesn't happen easily, I can appreciate that where there is change there will be a fringe case that feels objectified. But this company is about bringing people together and about loving one another."
Kutcher then went on to defend Chesky, who stayed silent while Gold was on stage, directly. "I know this man, I know his heart and I know his initiative and I know when a problem gets brought to his desk that says there is a discrimination, that says there is a displacement, he cares," said Kutcher. "And that the first thing he does is try to look at the system holistically and change it to make it better."
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"I was here to ask Airbnb to finally stop allowing the listing of homes in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," said Gold, speaking with Adweek after Kutcher's session. "The Stolen Homes Coalition, which Code Pink is a part of, has collected more than 150,000 signatures asking Airbnb to remove these listing as illegal settlements. [They] are part of Israel's systematic discrimination against the Palestinians."
Gold noted that Airbnb has not spoken with Code Pink, but instead addressed the issues that it has raised, with responses in the press. For his part, Kutcher told Gold, "You are welcome to a world where we all belong. And, if you want to sit down and have a conversation about it, I am happy to have that conversation with you."
After Gold left the stage, Kutcher and Chesky discussed some of the legislative issues that Airbnb has faced. Chesky asked Kutcher if he had considered those issues when he decided to invest in the company. Kutcher, in turn, explained that with new companies and new ideas there will be issues that the company will face along the way, and that regulators can be overzealous.
"[But] there's nothing more powerful than the travelers and the hosts, and we get to regulate," said Kutcher. "We get to regulate us, and we get to say what it is that we want and how we want it. And, we have to be responsible in dealing with the fringe case issues that come up, that are going to come up in every and any industry. As long as we're responsible in dealing with those, we can tell our legislators what we want and what we need. The tide will change, and the tide will shift, and this company will be around for decades to come."
Chesky argued that when it comes to Airbnb's issues with cities, the company has found much more success when hosts in those cities meet with their legislators.
"What's hard about some of the articles written about some of the challenges we've had is that they usually use one of two photos: a photo of our website or logo or they use a photo of me," said Chesky. "The truth is that when people try to say it's Airbnb versus a city—it's never actually that."
Chesky furthered: "Two things I would say. One, we're not here to fight with cities. Our hosts are part of those cities. I think the bigger point, though, is that it's not Airbnb, that we are a community of hosts, millions of hosts, and they are some of the kindest people I've ever met. What we've learned is that the more cities meet our hosts—not me—when they meet our hosts, I think they way they think [about Airbnb] changes dramatically."