Israel's Top Court Hears Appeal Against Deportation of Human Rights Watch Director

Omar Shakir's counsel is expected to argue that the decision to deport him on grounds of support for BDS is an attempt to silence human rights organizations operating in the country

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

Israel's Supreme Court will discuss Tuesday morning the appeal against the deportation of Human Rights Watch representative in Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, who is accused by the state of supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement.

The discussion 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.

>> 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 

The proceeding is expected to take place before justices Neal Hendel, Noam Sohlberg and Yael Vilner. Shakir, represented by attorneys Michael Sfard and Emily Shefer Omer-Man, is expected to argue that the decision to deport him is political, and an attempt to silence human rights organizations operating in the country. Shakir is also expected to request that the state activate a law that enables the Foreign Ministry, in certain cases, to prevent the deportation of BDS activists or the refusal to allow them to enter the country – if doing so could harm Israel’s foreign relations. For example, that is what Israel planned to do in the case of U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, before U.S. President Donald Trump intervened in the case.

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.

Justice Hendel recently ruled that Amnesty International and a group of former Israeli diplomats, headed by Ilan Baruch and Alon Liel, can join the appeal as amici curiae, despite the government’s opposition. One reason for the ruling is that the District Court earlier allowed the right-wing organizations Shurat Hadin, NGO Monitor and The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel to join the demand to deport him, as amici curiae. Due to Hendel’s decision, the decision regarding his deportation was postponed until this Tuesday.

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.

Sfard told Haaretz that “The attempt to deport Shakir is an attack on all human rights organizations and the ability to act to protect human rights in the context of the occupation, masked as a fight against the anti-Israel boycott.” Former ambassador Ilan Baruch said that “The decision to deport him is politically motivated and is contrary to diplomatic interests. We must hope that the Supreme Court will save the State of Israel from the Israeli government.”

Former ambassador Alon Liel added: “It’s not at all clear that the next government will also demand Omar Shakir’s deportation. That’s why there’s room to postpone the proceedings until the new government forms an opinion on the subject.”

On the other hand, Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s legal adviser, said: “As always, Omar Shakir doesn’t miss an opportunity to play the martyr, while using the Israeli legal system for a massive PR campaign for his own benefit. As opposed to the image of the victim that he’s trying to present, he’s been a leading BDS activist for over a decade. The time has come for the Supreme Court to decide on his case once and for all.”