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17 US Democratic lawmakers ask Netanyahu to stop deportation of HRW director

In letter to PM, members of Congress say booting Omar Shakir will reinforce impression of Israel as ‘increasingly hostile’ to rights defenders

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)
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)

Seventeen Democrat members of Congress sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imploring him to block the imminent deportation of Human Rights Watch’s director in Israel, saying they rely on the organization to monitor rights violations and that kicking out the worker would be bad for Israel’s image.

“To carry out our own human rights work and responsibilities in the US House of Representatives, we rely on the reports of Human Rights Watch for balanced accounts of human rights violations wherever they may occur, including here in the United States,” they wrote on April 30.

Deporting Omar Shakir, a US citizen, would “reinforce the impression that Israel is increasingly hostile to human rights defenders and the work of reputable international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights advocacy and research institutions,” the letter warned.

Among those who signed the letter were Reps James McGovern, Jackie Speier, Jan Schakowsky, Ilhan Omar, Steve Cohen, and Rashida Tlaib.

Last Thursday, the High Court of Justice delayed Shakir’s expulsion following a petition challenging the move.

The Jerusalem District Court last month rejected an earlier petition against the decision to deport Shakir, ruling he had until May 1 to leave.

But the High Court issued an injunction allowing Shakir to remain in Israel for seven days, his attorney Michael Sfard said at the time.

During this period, the Interior Ministry can submit its response to the appeal, which Shakir lodged at the High Court.

After the May 7 deadline, the court “could theoretically issue a new decision” on the case, Sfard told AFP.

The Interior Ministry’s decision to deny Shakir his work and residency permits was due to his alleged support of a boycott of Israel over its policies toward Palestinians — a claim accepted by the district court.

HRW denied the group or Shakir promoted a boycott of Israel, calling the April district court ruling a “new and dangerous interpretation of the law,” since it equated boycotting businesses operating in the West Bank to boycotting Israel.

In 2017, Israel passed a law granting the government the right to ban entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country.

The law was passed in response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Michigan Democrat Tlaib and Minnesota Democrat Omar both back the boycott Israel campaign.

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