Court freezes expulsion of top Human Rights Watch official

Omar Shakir, who rejects accusation that he supports an Israel boycott, allowed to remain in country pending decision on bid to deport him

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday issued an interim injunction ordering the Interior Ministry to allow a senior Human Rights Watch official to remain in Israel until government attempts to deport him have been ruled on.

Citing his alleged support for a boycott of Israel, the ministry announced on May 8 that it had revoked the entry permit of Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, who is a US citizen, and ordered him to leave the country within 14 days.

Shakir, who rejects the allegation and claims Israel is seeking to silence dissent, is fighting the decision.

But the Jerusalem District Court initially rejected his case and insisted he leave by May 24.

Human Rights Watch then filed an appeal, which was accepted.

In Wednesday’s judgement, Tamar Bazak Rapoport wrote that the Interior Ministry’s decision to revoke the work permit, based on a negative opinion from the Strategic Affairs Ministry, was given after the Foreign Ministry had recommended giving Shakir the permit, and that nothing had happened in the interim to justify a change of mind.

Furthermore, Shakir’s visa had even been extended since the Strategic Affairs Ministry had issued its opinion.

The judgement concluded, “Under these circumstances, it seems the status quo must be preserved, by an interim injunction.”

“We still got a ways to go, but a major step in the right direction,” Shakir tweeted in response.

“The court reasoned that the revocation decision was based on ‘old facts’ that predated the grant of the work permit,” he said in a statement.

Proceedings are now expected to move forward on HRW’s full lawsuit against the expulsion order.

Israeli officials — and particularly the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, overseen by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan — have clamped down on groups seen as supporting the global campaign for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which aims to pressure Israel to end its military rule over the West Bank.

Last year the Knesset passed a law barring boycotters of Israel and West Bank settlements from entering the country. However, the legislation still gives the interior minister leeway in making exceptions.

Israel, its advocates and even some of its critics have repeatedly accused HRW of having an anti-Israel bias — a criticism that the organization’s founder, Robert L. Bernstein, joined in an unusual op-ed he published in 2009 in The New York Times. Bernstein reiterated his criticism the following year during a lecture at a Nebraska university.

However, the decision to revoke Shakir’s permit prompted the ire of the European Union, which on Tuesday warned not to “join a very short list of countries” that have expelled human rights activists.

“Support for human rights defenders is an integral part of the European Union’s policy on human rights. Human rights defenders represent natural and indispensable allies in the promotion of human rights in their respective countries,” EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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