Court upholds deportation of Human Rights Watch director under BDS rule

Omar Shakir ordered to leave country by May 1 over calls to boycott companies to pressure Israel; activist says he only called on firms to cease operations in settlements

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

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

AP — An Israeli court upheld the deportation of Human Rights Watch’s local director on Tuesday and ordered him to leave the country within two weeks.

The Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal by Omar Shakir to remain in the country, citing his ongoing support of boycotts of Israel during his time in the country.

Israel enacted a law in 2017 barring entry to any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

Tuesday’s ruling was the first time the law was applied to someone already residing in the country.

Shakir, a US citizen, has worked as the New York-based group’s Israel and Palestine director since October 2016.

The interior minister ordered Shakir’s deportation in May 2018, calling him a “boycott activist.”

The court said that Shakir “continues his actions publicly to advance a boycott against Israel, but it’s not on the stages at conferences or in university panels, rather through disseminating his calls to advance a boycott primarily through his Twitter account and by other means.”

It cited Shakir’s support on Twitter for Airbnb’s decision to remove postings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank as an example.

Airbnb later backtracked on that decision.

Illustrative: A Palestinian man walks past graffiti calling for a boycott of Israel on a street in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on February 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Human Rights Watch said neither the organization nor Shakir promotes Israel boycotts, but has called for companies to cease operations in West Bank settlements because they “inherently benefit from and contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

The court upheld that the law applies to boycotts of “areas under [Israel’s] control,” namely the West Bank, not just of Israel proper.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the court’s ruling “threatens the ability of all Human Rights Watch staff members to access both Israel and the West Bank.”

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the court determined that the group’s “research and advocacy calling for businesses to stop facilitating abuses in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank constitutes a call for boycott.”

“The decision sends the chilling message that those who criticize the involvement of businesses in serious abuses in Israeli settlements risk being barred from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

The group said it would appeal the decision and seek an injunction blocking the deportation while legal proceedings continue.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose ministry leads anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions efforts, praised the ruling. “Boycott activists need to understand that what was will no longer be,” he said.

The court order said Shakir has until May 1 to leave the country.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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