Israeli Court Rejects Senior Human Rights Watch Official's Petition Against Deportation

Omar Shakir's residency permit canceled over accusations that he promotes boycotting Israel ■ Lawyers plan to appeal, say ruling endangers human rights groups

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, is seen at his hearing at the district court in Jerusalem March 11, 2019.
REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday denied a petition by the Israel and Palestine director of the group Human Rights Watch that was filed seeking to halt his deportation after his Israeli residency permit was revoked. The permit was withdrawn over claims that the group’s local director, Omar Shakir, supports the boycott of Israel. Shakir’s lawyers said they would appeal the district court decision to the Supreme Court. 

Shakir, who is a U.S. citizen, had his residency permit revoked by Interior Minister Arye Dery last May for what the minister deemed “his activity against Israel.” Dery made the decision after the Strategic Affairs Ministry issued a directive stating that Shaker “frequently retweets and shares content on BDS against Israel,” a reference to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The district court stayed Shakir’s deportation to enable him to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.

>> Inside the 'BDS dossier' behind the deportation order of an American human rights activist from Israel

According to Shakir, who has a J.D. in law from Stanford University in California, the action against him is part of wider effort by the Israeli government to harass Human Rights Watch and human rights activists in general. An initial decision to deport him was made about six months ago, but he has remained in Israel since then.

Commenting on the case, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said: “Boycott activists must understand that BDS activity against Israel and its citizens come at a price. No foreign actor has the right to sit in Israel and enjoy their time in the country while acting to harm its citizens.”

Shakir’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, said: “Today’s ruling endangers the activities of all the international human rights organizations in Israel and in the occupied territories. In the decision to allow the deportation of a defender of human rights because of his activity in defense of the victims of human rights violations, the court has toed the line with a regime that seeks to silence criticism even at the cost of infringing on society’s most important liberties. We will of course appeal.”

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said that the court’s decision “describes as ‘boycott-promoting activities’ Human Rights Watch’s research on the activities of businesses, including the global tourism companies Airbnb and Booking.com, and its recommendation that they cease operating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”

The group claimed that “neither Human Rights Watch nor Shakir as its representative promotes boycotts of Israel. The advocacy in question focuses exclusively on the Israeli occupied West Bank.” Tom Porteous, the deputy program director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted in the statement as saying that “Israeli authorities should focus on ending their serious human rights abuses rather than muzzling groups reporting on them.”