Israeli High Court to Determine Fate of Human Rights Watch Director Omar Shakir

24 Jul
10:00 PM

The Israeli High Court of Justice, on Wednesday, is set to defend its decision to deport Human Rights Watch Director for Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Haaretz reported.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this is a “dangerous interpretation” of the amendment to the 2017 Law on Entry, which authorizes the interior minister to refuse entry to activists or representatives of organizations who publicly call for a boycott of Israel or have made a commitment to participate in such a boycott.

On May 7, 2018, the Israeli interior minister revoked Shakir’s work visa and ordered him to leave the country, citing a dossier compiled by Israel’s Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry, on the activities of the Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director.

The interior minister based his decision on the government-compiled dossier on Shakir’s activism dating more than a decade before he began covering Israel and Palestine for Human Rights Watch, stating in a May 7, 2018 letter that the decision “does not constitute a principled or sweeping refusal for the organization to employ a foreign expert,” and that “no information has surfaced” regarding Shakir promoting boycotts during his time at Human Rights Watch.

HRW and Shakir, filed a lawsuit in May 2018, challenging the government’s decision to revoke Shakir’s work permit and the constitutionality of a 2017 law barring entry to Israel for people who advocate so-called boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements. 

Human Rights Watch recommended in a report that businesses cease their activities in the settlements, recognizing that commercial entities also have a responsibility with regard to human rights breaches.

“Israel portrays itself as the region’s only democracy, but is set to deport a rights defender over his peaceful advocacy,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

The deportation ruling comes amid sustained efforts to muzzle criticism of Israel’s human rights record. The Interior Ministry has denied entry to a number of other international rights advocates, accused Israeli advocacy groups of “slander” and of discrediting the state or army, imposed extensive financial reporting requirements on Israeli rights groups that burden their advocacy, and subjected Palestinian rights defenders to travel restrictions and even arrest and criminal charges.

According to Haaretz, “the state doesn’t want to expel Shakir and Human Rights Watch from Israel, but rather from the territories, to stop the organization from scrutinizing the human rights situation there. Thus, this expulsion is no different at all from the assaults on Breaking the Silence or on B’Tselem.”

The author states that neither Human Rights Watch nor Shakir as its representative promotes boycotts of Israel. The advocacy in question focuses exclusively on the Israeli occupied West Bank. Human Rights Watch has found that businesses operating in West Bank settlements inherently benefit from and contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Haaretz states that the boycotting of businesses is a non-violent, legitimate means of protest, and if the High Court approves the expulsion, its justices will have signed off on the expulsion of a Nobel Prize-winning organization from Israel. The heart of the petition is not Shakir but rather the ability to work for human rights in Israel. Amnesty has already announced that if Shakir is expelled it will have to reconsider its work there. 

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Ali Salam

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