Israel's Top Court Upholds Expulsion of Human Rights Watch Director Over BDS Support

State says Omar Shakir supports boycott movement, while he says decision is part of attempt to silence human rights organizations working in Israel

Human Rights Watch representative Omar Shakir at the Jerusalem District Court on September 16, 2019.
Emil Salman

The Supreme Court upheld the expulsion of Human Rights Watch representative in Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, accused by the state of supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, on Tuesday. 

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 47Haaretz

Justices Neal Hendel, Noam Sohlberg, and Yael Willner rejected Shakir's and Human Rights Watch's appeal against the expulsion, ruling that the interior minister did not err in deciding not to renew the activist's residency. He has 20 days to leave the country. 

Shakir has said the decision to expel him was politically motivated and part of an attempt to silence human rights organizations working in Israel. He asked the government to halt his expulsion on the basis of the law allowing the Foreign Ministry to block moves against pro-boycott activists if there are grounds to believe such actions would damage Israel's foreign relations. 

Hendel wrote in the ruling that Interior Minister Arye Dery's decision "concerns only the employment of Shakir himself – and it is based on his systematic, prolonged, qualitative and wide-ranging activity to promote the boycott strategy." However, Hendel added, "Human Rights Watch is not classified as a boycott organization – and it can request the employment of another representative who is not involved up to his neck in BDS activity." 

Michael Sfard, one of Shakir's attorneys, said of the decision: "Today, the State of Israel joined the list of countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea, which have expelled Human Rights Watch representatives in an attempt to silence criticism of human rights violations taking place within their borders."

Dery, for his part, said he welcomed the court's decision, saying that "anyone who works against the state should know that we will not allow him to live or work here."

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also welcomed the decision, and said: "The State of Israel places great importance on the activity of real human rights organizations, and even provides hundreds of residency permits to human rights activists every year," adding that the organization is free to choose another person for the job. 

The Supreme Court heard Shakir's appeal against the expulsion in September, after the hearing was postponed in July to give the state time to prepare for the addition of Amnesty International and a group of former Israeli ambassadors as amici curiae (friends of the court), after right-wing non-profit organizations also joined the request for his deportation in the same capacity.

In April, the Jerusalem District Court approved the government decision to cancel the work and residency visa of Shakir, a U.S. citizen, claiming that in the past he expressed support for the BDS movement. In May of last year Interior Minister Arye Dery cancelled his visa for what he described as Shakir’s anti-Israel activity. This was done on the instructions of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which said that Shakir often shares anti-Israel BDS content on social media. Shakir then appealed to the Supreme Court.

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth told Haaretz in July that if Israel does deport their representative in Israel and the territories it “will join countries like South Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan and Iran, which have deported our representatives. It’s not a club that Israel should be enthusiastic about joining.”

He added that “The Israeli government is in a campaign designed to silence not only us and local human rights organizations, but also to deny Israelis information about what’s happening around them.” He recently revealed that even the Strategic Affairs Ministry uses Shakir’s research on human rights violations by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.