Israel expels Human Rights Watch director

Omar Shakir

Human Rights Watch has pledged to keep documenting abuses despite the Israeli government’s expulsion of the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch on Monday.

The human rights organisation said the deportation of Omar Shakir reflects the Israeli authorities’ intensifying assault on human rights.

Shakir is due to depart Jerusalem tonight after Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the government’s deportation order on November 5 and gave him until November 25 to leave.

“Israel today joins the likes of Venezuela, Iran, and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who will accompany Shakir as he leaves Israel.

“This decision shows why the international community must reboot its approach to Israel’s deteriorating human rights record. A government that expels a leading human rights investigator is not likely to stop its systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation without much greater international pressure.”

For his part, Shakir was defiant saying that: “I’ll be back when the day comes that we have succeeded in dismantling the system of discrimination impacting Israelis and Palestinians.”

Israel revoked the work visa of Shakir, a United States citizen, in May 2018 on the grounds that his advocacy violated a 2017 law that bars entry to people who advocate a boycott of Israel or its settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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But Human Rights Watch said it nor Shakir have ever called for a boycott of Israel, although they have urged businesses to stop operating in illegal settlements as part of their “global duty to avoid complicity in human rights abuses.”

A district court in April, and then the Israeli Supreme Court, found that this position constitutes grounds for deportation under an expansive reading of the 2017 law.

“Today, Israel deports Shakir because Human Rights Watch urges businesses to shun illegal settlements,” said Roth. “Who’s next – someone who calls for the International Criminal Court to examine possible crimes in Israel and Palestine or correctly calls the West Bank ‘occupied’ rather than ‘disputed’?”

HRW added that Israeli authorities have recently sought to undermine the work of human rights activists, including denying entry to a number of other international rights defenders, maligning Israeli rights advocates, imposing burdensome financial reporting requirements on them, and raiding the offices of and arresting Palestinian rights defenders.

While the UN, EU and others condemned Israel’s deportation of Shakir as an attempt to quash criticism of human rights violations, the majority of Israeli politicians have supported it as combatting the global movement to boycott Israel.

Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by antisemitism – something the movement denies. In 2017, the Israeli parliament passed a law refusing entry to people with links to BDS.

On 5 November, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Shakir’s position constituted grounds for deportation under the 2017 law, and gave him 20 days to leave Israel.

Israeli Interior Minister Arye Deri said at the time: “Anyone who works against the state should know that we will not allow him to live or work here.”

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