Court refuses to delay Human Rights Watch activist’s expulsion

US citizen Omar Shakir, whom Israel accuses of supporting BDS, says judge gave him until May 24 to leave the country

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)

An Israeli court on Thursday rejected Human Rights Watch’s request for its country director to remain in Israel until an appeal against his expulsion is heard, the affected official told AFP.

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, now has one week to leave Israel, he said.

“The judge rejected our request for an interim order that would allow me to stay in the country so the case could be heard,” Shakir said, after the ruling by the Jerusalem District Court. “The judge gave me until May 24 to leave.”

HRW intends to appeal to the Supreme Court, he said.

The Interior Ministry announced on May 8 it had revoked Shakir’s permit and ordered he leave the country within 14 days for his alleged support for a boycott of Israel.

Shakir rejected the allegation and claimed Israel was seeking to silence dissent.

BDS supporters with a pro-Palestinian banner urging Europeans to give “zero point to apartheid” and not vote for Israel’s Eurovision entry in Lisbon, Portugal on May 12, 2018. (Eurovision boycott of Israel – ZERO points to the song of Israeli Apartheid/Facebook)

The organization has filed an appeal against the decision, and Shakir said he had thought he was likely to be granted an extension until the case was concluded.

Israeli officials 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.

“This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” HRW said in a statement following the Interior Ministry’s decision. “Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook.”

“Neither Human Rights Watch nor its representative, Shakir, promotes boycotts of Israel,” it added. However, it acknowledged that the group has urged companies to cease operations in West Bank settlements.

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