Israeli court upholds order to deport human rights official
Omar Shakir to be expelled over comments about firms in West Bank Jewish settlements
Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director: tweeted that if he is deported, Israel will “join ranks of Iran, N Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official. We won’t stop.” Photograph: Ammar Awad
Tuesday’s decision followed a prolonged legal battle and is the first time a human rights official has been deported under an Israeli law from 2017 that bars entry to those who publicly support a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) insists that neither it nor Mr Shakir promotes boycotts of Israel. It argued that, as its representative, Mr Shakir called on companies to stop working in West Bank Jewish settlements, which are considered illegal under international law, but had not called for a consumer boycott of those companies.
Mr Shakir, a US citizen, had contested the government’s argument that his past pro-Palestinian statements, before he joined HRW, constituted current backing for anti-Israel boycotts.
In June, the court put on hold a deportation order issued by a lower court earlier this year but on Tuesday it said the deportation could proceed.
HRW is considering an appeal to a larger judicial panel but if it chooses not to appeal Mr Shakir will likely be asked to leave the country within 20 days.
Former senior Israeli diplomats had joined HRW’s appeal, as did Amnesty International, which raised concern about the “wider chilling effect” on other human rights groups operating in the occupied West Bank.
The European Union had joined the call to prevent Mr Shakir’s deportation, urging Israel to allow HRW to continue their human rights advocacy work unimpeded.
“The supreme court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “If the government now deports HRW’s researcher for asking businesses operating in the West Bank to respect rights as we do across the world, there’s no telling whom it will throw out next.”
Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Gilad Erdan, welcomed the verdict. “I applaud the decision of the supreme court that a work visa should not be given to a foreign boycott activist who wants to harm Israel and its citizens,” he said in a statement.
“Omar Shakir is a BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] activist who took advantage of his stay in Israel to harm it, something no sane country would allow,” he said. “Israel sees great importance in the activities of real human rights organisations, granting hundreds of visas every year to human rights activists.”