Human Rights Watch sues to block activist’s expulsion from Israel
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Human Rights Watch sues to block activist’s expulsion from Israel

US citizen Omar Shakir claims authorities are overstepping anti-boycott laws in an effort to silence legitimate criticism

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)

The Human Rights Watch group on Wednesday filed a lawsuit asking an Israeli court to block the planned deportation of its local director.

Israel this month ordered Omar Shakir to leave the country, claiming he supports boycotts of Israel. HRW said that neither it nor Shakir, a US citizen, support boycotts, and accused Israel of trying to muzzle criticism of its human rights record.

The lawsuit, filed against Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, also accused Israel of improperly enforcing an anti-boycott law. It said the law, used to prevent boycott activists from entering the country, does not apply to people who are already in the country with valid visas.

“This outcome is blood-curdling as it means the creation of databases on the political views, opinions and statements of civilians,” the suit says.

In a video posted to his Twitter feed, Shakir said HRW has only called on businesses to stop operating in the West Bank, where, he claimed, entities “benefit from and contribute to serious violations of international law.”

“We also support the right of people to express themselves through nonviolent means including participating in boycotts,” he said.

Shakir, who is the Israel/Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, has been ordered to leave by midnight next Monday. The lawsuit asked the court to delay his deportation until the end of the legal proceedings.

Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2016, Shakir was a legal fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization that has filed war crimes lawsuits against former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former director of the Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter, a current member of Knesset.

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.

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