After Publicly Backtracking on Ban, Israel Still Won't Let in Human Rights Watch Investigator

Last week Haaretz reported NGO employee employee was refused visa due to 'Palestinian propaganda'. State later said it reconsidered, but request was again denied by immigration authority. Foreign Ministry: Refusal was a mistake.

HRW's Omar Shakir.
Omar Shakir's FB page

The Population and Immigration Authority is standing by its refusal to allow a researcher from Human Rights Watch into the country despite a statement by Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon that Israel was prepared to reconsider admitting the representative from the organization.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman said that while the issue was being given a second look, the HRW employee could enter the country on a tourist visa, but that too is being denied by the Population Authority.

As a result of the uncertainty, Human Rights Watch lawyer Michael Sfard approached the Population and Immigration Authority to verify that that researcher, Omar Shakir, an American citizen of Iraqi background, would in fact be allowed into the country. On Thursday, Sfard received a response from the head of the border administration at the authority, Michal Yosipof, stating that the authority was maintaining its refusal over issuing Shakir a work visa because, following the earlier rejection, "we have not found special circumstances [justifying] approving his entry into the country."

Thursday evening, Nahshon, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the refusal "a mistake" and insisted that Shakir would be allowed in as a tourist.

HRW, which operates in 90 countries, has monitored human rights violations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for years. After the researcher who was working in Israel for the past several years left seven months ago, the group applied for a visa for his replacement, Shakir. The refusal, the Population Authority said, was without regard to the identity of the new researcher.

The Population and Immigration Authority's initial refusal to grant Shakir a work visa was actually taken at the Foreign Ministry's direction, on the argument that the organization had for years served Palestinian propaganda purposes. The organization denies the allegations.

In backtracking on the decision, Nahshon explained that the opinion of the Foreign Ministry was handed down before the internal consultation procedure was completed. He added that the ministry takes responsibility for the mishap and will act to correct it.

Immediately after the matter was first reported, Nahshon said Israel would be prepared to reconsider the matter if the organization filed an appeal. A senior Israeli official, who asked to remain unnamed, said that Foreign Ministry's U-turn in favor of allowing the HRW researcher to enter came in the wake of a directive from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister.

The American administration had also reached out to Israel for clarifications, as Human Rights Watch is a non-governmental organization founded in the United States with headquarters in New York.

In his request for assurance that Shakir would be let into the country, Sfard noted that the researcher intended to arrive in Israel next Sunday. At the same time, HRW submitted a formal request for reconsideration of Shakir's work visa.

Despite the latest statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Nahshon, the Population Authority is maintaining the position that Shakir would not be allowed to enter the country as a tourist.