Israel to expel Human Rights Watch director for ‘actively supporting’ BDS

Israel to expel Human Rights Watch director for ‘actively supporting’ BDS

Interior Ministry gives local manager Omar Shakir 14 days to leave; HRW says ‘this is about shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record’

Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir (YouTube screenshot)
Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir (YouTube screenshot)

Israeli authorities have revoked the work permit of an American Human Rights Watch staffer and ordered him to leave Israel within 14 days due to his alleged support for a boycott of Israel, the Population Immigration and Border Authority said Wednesday.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), was granted a one-year work visa in April 2017 by the Interior Ministry after Israeli authorities initially denied him one two months earlier, accusing his organization of engaging in Palestinian “propaganda.”

Sabine Hadad, a spokeswoman for PIBA, said the decision to revoke Shakir’s visa was due to him allegedly “actively supporting” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“It is unacceptable that a boycott activist gets a permit to stay in Israel in order that [he] can act in every way possible to harm the state. I will work to remove such people from Israel by all means at my disposal and therefore Omar Shakir will leave Israel,” said Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, whose office oversees PIBA.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who recommended revoking Shakir’s visa, said his office “reveals the true face of boycott activists.”

“Even when they present a false pose of ‘human rights activists’ we will show the hypocrisy and the moral distortion of their actions and make them pay a price for work against Israel,” said Erdan.

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.

A letter from HRW on Tuesday noted that the decision “does not constitute a principled or sweeping refusal for the organization to employ a foreign expert,” but rather relates specifically to Shakir.

Demonstrators protesting outside the Spanish government delegation in Barcelona, Oct. 20, 2015. (Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

However, the February 2017 Interior Ministry decision to deny him a work permit did target the organization, saying that its “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’” The ministry later reversed course, granting HRW a permit in March 2017 and issuing Shakir a one-year work visa the following month.

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 its statement. “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.

Jacob Magid and JTA contributed to this report.

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