Israel is deporting the local director of Human Rights Watch, citing his alleged anti-Israel activities and involvement in the BDS movement. He rejected the accusations on Wednesday.
Fifteen Israeli human rights organizations responded to the move by saying it was "particularly worrying" that Israel is compiling personal dossiers on foreign nationals.
Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen who previously worked for the New York-based rights group in Egypt and Syria, was given 14 days to leave Israel – after being informed his work visa is not being renewed – according to a statement issued Tuesday by Interior Minister Arye Dery.
Dery said the decision was based on a recommendation from the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which said information it collected on Shakir indicated he was active in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Both Shakir and the organization, which has operated in Israel for the past 30 years, denied the government’s charges. They accused Israel of trying to block human rights workers from doing their jobs.
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“I think this is not an aberration. I think the deportation order for HRW reflects the growing intolerance of Israeli authorities to criticism of its human rights record,” Shakir told Haaretz.
The deportation order appears to be the first time Israel’s so-called anti-boycott law has been used to deport someone who was already in Israel. In the past, such deportations occurred when suspected BDS activists arrived at the country’s main port, Ben-Gurion Airport, for planned visits to Israel and the occupied territories.
In March 2017, Israel passed an amendment to its Entry into Israel law, empowering the authorities to refuse entrance to those they claim to be activists in the BDS movement.
“It is inconceivable for a boycott activist to get an Israeli visa so he can do whatever he can to harm the country," Dery said in his statement. "I will take action to remove such individuals from the country with all the means at my disposal and, therefore, Omar Shakir will leave Israel,” he added.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose ministry oversees BDS issues, also issued a statement. “We are exposing the true face of boycott activists," he said. "When they falsely present themselves as ‘human rights activists,’ we’ll uncover the hypocrisy and twisted morals of their actions and make them pay for their actions against Israel.”
The ministry had collected a dossier on Shakir, whose official title is Israel and Palestine director at HRW. It informed the organization last November it had initiated a review of Shakir’s status in Israel, and informed him of its official decision by letter on Monday.
“This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” Human Rights Watch's Iain Levine said on the organization's website. “Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook,” he added.
Sari Bashi, Israel Palestine advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, defended Shakir’s record and denied he was involved in any current BDS activities.
“Like many employees at Human Rights Watch, before working for Human Rights Watch Omar had engaged in political activity. But when people start working at Human Rights Watch, they separate their past activities from their current work,” Bashi said.
Human Rights Watch in Israel said it will file a petition in court to challenge the government’s decision.
In a statement, 15 Israeli human rights organizations – including B'Tselem, Breaking the Silence Physicians for Human Rights, and Rabbis for Human Rights – decried the move.
"Israel’s decision to deport a Human Rights Watch official, and the growing list of people to whom it denies entry for criticizing of the occupation, place Israel squarely on a list of disreputable states," they wrote.
"The governments of such states try to control people’s minds, thoughts and actions, instead of safeguarding people’s freedom of speech, and their freedom to act and protest government policies. Particularly worrying is the fact that Israeli authorities compile 'personal dossiers' on foreign nationals because of things they have said or for having taken part in legitimate political activities."