OPINION: Airbnb Illustrates Corporate America’s Growing Moral Void

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko | Rabbi

Imagine the following scene: A Wall Street Gala celebration, celebrating those who made more than anyone on Wall Street this year. The speakers come up to the podium. From the podium, they begin sharing their crucial moral message to the nation.

They tell us what we need to be more moral, honest, and values centered. Some will speak of the need for hard work, others for honesty, and so on. While having great respect for entertainers and their successes, most Americans will find this scene ridiculous.

Wall Street’s leaders are not America’s moral shepherds, nor are they in a position to tell the rest of us how to lead more moral lives. While this is not happening on Wall Street, sadly, corporate America, predominantly Silicon Valley, has taken the reins of America’s morality — and we are all suffering from this.

As a Jew, I can see this from close. For example, in the case of Airbnb. The hospitality giant decided it will no longer list homes of Israelis living in the West Bank. Even as it lists homes in Crimea and other disputed territories, Airbnb decided that the first and worst human rights violators they can find around the globe is a few Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

They could not even blacklist ISIS-controlled areas. Why? Because there are much more people who hate Israel in this world than there are Jewish settlers. Airbnb decided to take the moral high ground and come out against a few Jewish settlers on hilltops who are trying to make ends meet by adding a hospitality component to their homes.

Take another very obvious one: Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants have taken upon themselves to decide what is moral and what is not; what is within the pale of acceptable and what is not.

Considering how fixed these companies are on yielding ever-growing margins, it is hard to imagine how the finances involved in these decisions don’t impact those “moral” decisions. The moral sermons coming from Hollywood and other halls of revenue are not much different. Their daily preaching and righteous demands echo out every day with the assumption of a moral superiority and authority.

It is hard to imagine that those two don’t come out only after crunching the numbers and demographics that may find those messages appealing.

We have come to an unprecedented stage in human history where morality is corporatized. Ethical standards have been relegated to boardroom meetings, printability charts, and calculations of financial gain. The effects of this broken system are affecting who we are and relegating morality exactly where it does not belong: the pocket. This all needs to change.

So, who does have a better claim to morality?

It is easy to argue back that clergy and organized religion don’t either.

After all, great atrocities have been committed in the name of religion and religions often have a great deal to gain from one moral way or the other. We now need to ask ourselves: does anyone have the right to make any moral claim?

To answer this we must realize morality needs to be demanded, not waited on. We can’t wait for Hollywood, Wall Street, or even the clergy to serve us morality. Morality needs to be on demand. We can’t just agree with morality, we need to have demanded it.

Bottom to top grassroots morality is what helped form the United States, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and so many other positive changes in the course of history. Sure, clergy, philosophers, scientists, and others can try to help with questions of morality— only when those are on demand. We need the grassroots to be asking hard questions, and willing to embrace even more difficult answers.

Corporations or celebrities that speak to an audience after doing their market research will not save us from our growing crisis of morality. Change will only come from every American asking tough questions and demanding answers.

If ordinary Americans don’t step up and lead those conversations, our moral void will be filled by special interests groups, corporations and companies who look to their profit margins even as they preach to us.

Leaving morality to those who will not hesitate to take profitable paths which will erode the fabric of our society the way the big social media companies have done is a mistake from which we will never heal. Leaving our morality to the free market can have devastating consequences on our lives and will leave us bereft of so many of the things that are so dear to us.

The United States was founded by people who took charge of their own destiny and were passionate about what morality really means. Our founding fathers and ordinary Americans prioritized the quest for morality and did not leave it for others to decide or dictate.

Large corporations, tech titans and special interests groups have recently shown themselves to be all too eager to command the conversation of morality in America. Americans who do not want to live through the devastating consequences of morality being farmed out to boardrooms and charts of profit margins which will keep on tearing our nation apart, need to step up and command the conversation about morality.

We need to be leaders of morality, not followers. This must include a commitment to love and respect our fellow citizens and commit to working with each other regardless of our differences. God bless America.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is the interim rabbi at Congregation Ramath Orah and a teacher at Park East Day School in New York. He is also president of EITAN, the American-Israei Jewish Network.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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