Israel to be first democracy to expel Human Rights Watch staffer, director says
search

Israel to be first democracy to expel Human Rights Watch staffer, director says

Ken Roth warns Monday’s planned deportation of Omar Shakir ‘demonstrates increasingly constrained nature of Israeli democracy’

Kenneth Roth (L), executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group HRW director for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,, at an East Jerusalem hotel on November 24, 2019, ahead of Shakir's expulsion from Israel. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Kenneth Roth (L), executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group HRW director for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,, at an East Jerusalem hotel on November 24, 2019, ahead of Shakir's expulsion from Israel. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Israel is set to become the first democracy to expel a Human Rights Watch employee, its executive director Ken Roth said Sunday, denouncing the upcoming deportation of one of his staffers.

US citizen Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, is to be deported from Israel on Monday over his alleged support of a boycott of the country.

The expulsion, upheld by the Supreme Court, would make Shakir the first person to be expelled from the country under a controversial 2017 law allowing the deportation of foreigners who support a boycott of Israel, according to authorities.

HRW denies that Shakir supports a boycott of the Jewish state, and accuses Israel of seeking to suppress criticism of policies towards Palestinians.

“I cannot think of another democracy that has barred a Human Rights Watch researcher,” Roth told AFP in Jerusalem.

Roth said countries including North Korea, Venezuela and Iran have expelled HRW researchers, but no functioning democracy has taken such action.

“I think it demonstrates the increasingly constrained nature of Israeli democracy,” Roth added.

He said Israel, despite having elections and a free press, tries “as much as it can” to silence efforts “spotlighting the human rights violations at the heart of the oppressive, discriminatory occupation [of Palestinian land].”

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 organization has warned of “dramatic consequences” for Israeli diplomatic efforts, human rights groups operating in the country, and political freedom.

Shakir has been fighting a lengthy legal campaign against expulsion, but earlier this month the Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to deport him.

Israel accuses him of being a supporter of the banned Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for a broad-ranging boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism — a claim activists deny. Supporters compare it to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid South Africa.

“All those who work against Israel must know that we will not let them live or work here,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said earlier this month.

The case against Shakir was initially based on statements he made in support of a boycott before taking up his post with HRW.

The government case also highlighted work he has done since joining HRW, including criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Interior Minister and Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri gives a statement to the press during a Shas faction meeting in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Neither Human Rights Watch, nor I as its representative, have ever called for a boycott of Israel,” Shakir told AFP.

But he said that the organization did not restrict free speech, including the right to call for a boycott.

“It is undeniable that boycotts around the world have led to changing unjust systems but Human Rights Watch doesn’t take a position on them,” he added.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
comments