Human Rights Watch Chief on Attempt to Expel Local Director: Israel Trying 'To Shut Us Down' Like Iran

Supreme Court to rule on whether Israel can expel local director Omar Shakir on claim that he had engaged in BDS activity

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, Ramallah, West Bank, October 23, 2018.
AP

UPDATE: Supreme Court delays hearing on local Human Rights Watch director's deportation

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said Tuesday that if Israel would expel its director for Israel and the West Bank, Omar Shakir, it would “join the likes of North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, and Iran, which also exclude our representatives.”

“That is not a club that Israel should be eager to join,” commented Roth, who is in Israel for the Supreme Court hearing on the appeal against Shakir’s deportation. “This is a campaign by the Israeli government not only to shut down human rights activity, including by our Israeli partners, but also to deprive Israelis of information about what is happening around them. Whatever happens, we will continue to report objectively on human rights violations here and elsewhere.”

Supreme Court Justices Neal Hendel, Noam Sohlberg and Yael Willner are to rule on Thursday regarding Shakir’s appeal of the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to uphold the state’s revocation of his work and residence visa based on the claim that he had in the past expressed support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Shakir, a U.S. citizen, had his visa revoked by Interior Minister Arye Dery in May because of what Dery called “anti-Israel activity,” at the behest of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which noted at the time that Shakir “frequently re-tweets and shares content on the subject of BDS against Israel.”

>> Read more: UN experts urge Israel to halt deportation of Human Rights Watch director ■ Expulsion of human rights watch director would be big show of Israeli hypocrisy | Opinion 

Meanwhile, the state said it opposed Amnesty International joining the appeal as a Friend of the Court. The state also opposed a request by a group of former Israeli diplomats headed by Ilan Baruch and Alon Liel to join the appeal. This opposition comes despite the fact that the right-wing organizations Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, NGO Monitor and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel were permitted by the district court to be designated friends of the court and to join the demand to deport Shakir.

Saleh Hijazi, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, wrote on the organization’s website: “The Israeli authorities’ decision to deport Omar Shakir is a crushing blow to freedom of expression in the country and sends an alarming signal to human rights activists and civil society in general of the extent they are willing to go in their attempt to silence those who defend human rights. We hope that the Israeli Supreme Court will uphold the state’s obligations under international human rights law and overturn Omar Shakir’s expulsion order.”

Molly Malekar, Amnesty International Israel’s programs director said that closing Israel’s borders to critical voices is a breach of Palestinian human rights, and if Israel expels Shakir it will join a club whose members include countries like Belarus, China, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria, which pass laws intended to silence critics.

Human Rights Watch is one of the oldest and largest human rights organization in the world. Every year its investigators publish more than 100 reports on human rights conditions in some 90 countries. Human Rights Watch says it receives no government funding so as to maintain its independence in the various countries in which it works. Before his current position, Shakir, a graduate of Stanford University Law School, represented detainees in Guantanamo prison and also investigated human rights violations in Egypt.

The NGO notes that the authorities in Israel and its agencies have themselves quoted Shakir’s findings regarding human rights violations by Hamas in the territories. That, the organization said, proves Israel’s hypocritical attitude toward Shakir’s work.

Shakir’s attorney, Michael Sfard, told Haaretz ahead of the hearing: “Now it’s Omar Shakir and his organization, tomorrow it’s Amnesty and the day after that it’s foreign journalists who are critical of the settlement policy. The Israeli government is working to turn Israel into a hostile state closed to criticism, the total opposite of what a democratic country should be. In this sense, this case is the moment of truth in the struggle for the character of Israeli society.”

The Strategic Affairs Ministry commented: “Omar Shakir is a foreign BDS activist masquerading as a ‘human rights’ activist but in fact wants to be in Israel to act from within to boycott and damage it. The State of Israel considers the work of true civil society groups important, not as a cover for boycott activities, and Israel therefore issues 350 residence visas to true human rights activists. As the district court clearly ruled – Omar Shakir is not eligible for a residence visa in Israel because he led and was involved in boycott activity against Israel and continued with these activities in his current position as well.”