Israeli Court Halts Expulsion of Senior Human Rights Watch Official

Israel issued a deportation order against Omar Shakir, accusing him of being involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement

Human Rights Watch's Israel director, Omar Shakir.

The Jerusalem District Court issued an injuction on Wednesday, temporarily halting the deportation order against senior Human Rights Watch official Omar Shakir.

Israel ordered the deportation of Shakir, the local director of Human Rights Watch, citing his alleged anti-Israel activities and involvement in the BDS movement. Shakir rejects the accusations.

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The court, responding to a petition filed by Human Rights Watch, said that the government was not basing its deportation order on new information, but on facts that were known to the Foreign Ministry when it granted Shakir the visa.

Shakir will remain in Israel until the court rules on the case.

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.

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.

The first page of the Israeli dossier investigating the activities of Human Rights Watch Director Omar Shakir.
From HRW

“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.

Haaretz has obtained details about the background dossier written by the Strategic Affairs Ministry concerning Shakir. The editors of the document examined Shakir’s “involvement in the area of boycotts” between 2010 and 2017, saying he was involved in a number of incidents including the attempt to suspend Israel from FIFA [international soccer association], the attempt to establish an organization calling for boycotting and divesting from Israel when he was a student at Stanford University, and involvement in “consistently calling for BDS at conferences, discussions and on social networks for years.”

The document also states that Shakir signed a petition to prevent a visit by a Muslim delegation to Israel in 2015. “It is clear that Shakir continues to encourage activities to promote boycotts against Israel even after receiving a work permit,” states the document. Shakir traveled to Bahrein in advance of the FIFA congress at which the proposal to suspend Israel, at the request of the Palestinian soccer association, was debated in an attempt to pressure FIFA, says the document.

The document also mentions various statements Shakir has made “surrounding the activities of the organization with the High Commissioner of the United Nations Human Rights Council in which the urgent need to publish a database by the UN that includes names on the issue of international Israeli companies that operate in Judea and Samaria was emphasized, and in practice to support the publication of a ‘blacklist.’” 

Shakir’s comments on Twitter in which he promoted a report from Human Rights Watch about Israeli banking activities in the West Bank were also mentioned in the document.

MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) praised the court's decision to halt the deportation order, saying "There are judges in Jerusalem. It's a shame the ministers think they think they can do whatever they like, without regard for the law and common sense." 

"This time, the courts blocked the evil," he said.

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.

Fifteen Israeli human rights organizations responded to the move by saying it was "particularly worrying" that Israel is compiling personal dossiers on foreign nationals.

Human Rights Watch said after the court’s ruling: “It is scary that in a democratic country a government ministry conducts surveillance on a foreign citizen who resides legally in Israel but criticized the government’s policies. [Shakir] entered Israel legally and in the framework of his job he criticized the Israeli authorities (as well as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority). The [Public Security Ministry] began to watch him. When they did not find a ‘contemporary’ call for a boycott from [Shakir], they dug into his student past and on the basis of past calls they recommended his deportation.”

“This is a dangerous deviation even from the authority given to the Interior Minister in the amendment to the ‘Entry to Israel Law.’ The Knesset authorized the Interior Minister to refuse entry to Israel based on a call for a boycott – not to follow someone who resides in Israel legally and deport them based on critical statements. The implications for the foreigners in Israel – partners of Israeli citizens, employees in Israeli companies – are far reaching,” said HRW.

The European Union called on Israel Tuesday to reverse its decision to revoke the Shakir's work visa. In a mildly worded statement issued, the EU said it "expects the Israeli authorities to reverse their decision, as otherwise Israel would join a very short list of countries which have barred entry to, or expelled, Human Rights Watch staff."