Supreme Court upholds expulsion of Human Rights Watch local director
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Supreme Court upholds expulsion of Human Rights Watch local director

Justices rule that Omar Shakir, who has been accused of supporting the boycott Israel movement, must leave the country within 20 days

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 Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by the local director of Human Rights Watch against a government decision to expel him for allegedly supporting the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

As a result, the court ruled, Omar Shakir must leave the country within 20 days.

A lower court in April upheld an Interior Ministry decision not to renew Omar Shakir’s work visa and ordered him to leave the country, saying his advocacy against Israel’s settlements in the West Bank amounts to support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. Israeli law allows the barring of those who publicly support a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.

“If it proceeds, I have 20 days to leave & it’ll join ranks of Iran, N Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official,” Shakir tweeted after the decision was announced, referring to Israel.

The justices cited in their ruling three examples of Twitter posts from Shakir’s personal account over the past two and a half years in which he appeared to urge boycotts of the settlements.

In a post from May 2017, Shakir wrote that he wanted to “press FIFA on [soccer] matches in illegal Israeli settlements.”

After the vacation lodging website Airbnb stopped brokering Israeli rentals in the West Bank, in November 2018 Shakir addressed another website, booking.com, telling it that “all eyes now on you-delisting only way to meet your human rights responsibilities under UN Guiding Principles.” Airbnb later restored the Israeli West Bank rental listings.

And in February 2019, after a Spanish company rejected a tender for a light rail project in Jerusalem because its route passed through the eastern part of the city, an area claimed by the Palestinians for their future state, Shakir wrote, “Other companies should follow it’s lead.”

The remarks “distinctly call for a boycott of entities operating in Israel and the West Bank,” the court said.

Human Rights Watch has said neither it nor Shakir has called for an outright boycott of Israel. It said Shakir, who is a US citizen, is being targeted for the rights group’s opposition to the settlements and its calls for companies to stop working with the settlements.

Israel has adopted a tough stance in recent years toward the BDS movement, which it says is aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s existence and wiping it off the map. The BDS movement says it is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights and does not endorse a specific solution to the conflict.

Shakir has received support from some US lawmakers, including Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on July 9, 2019 (Flash90)

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan welcomed Tuesday’s court decision, saying in a statement that “Shakir is a BDS activist who took advantage of his stay in Israel to harm it, something no sane country would allow.

“Israel sees great importance in the activities of real human rights organizations, granting hundreds of visas every year to human rights activists,” he added. “HRW is welcome to appoint another representative in Israel in place of Shakir if it chooses to do so.”

Shakir’s attorney Michael Sfard said in a statement that by kicking out his client, “Israel is joining a list of countries like Syria, Iran, and North Korea that have expelled Human Rights Watch representatives in an attempt to silence criticism of human rights violations going on in their territories.”

“Today they are expelling Omar, tomorrow they will expel anyone who criticizes government policies in the West Bank,” Sfard wrote.

MK Ayman Odeh, who leads the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab Israeli political parties, tweeted that Shakir’s expulsion “only proves to us and the world how much his work is needed.”

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