Citing Alqasem, Israel Asks Court for More Time in Case of Human Rights Watch Worker Facing Deportation Over BDS

Days after U.S. student Lara Alqasem's appeal granted, government says it needs time to study her case before responding in case of of Omar Shakir, HRW official also facing deportation over alleged BDS support

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Human Rights Watch's Israel director, Omar Shakir.
Human Rights Watch's Israel director, Omar Shakir.
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Israel has requested that the Jerusalem District Court allow it to postpone its response to the court in the case of an American human rights worker facing deportation from Israel due to alleged involvement in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The state says it needs time to understand the legal consequences following the successful appeal by Lara Alqasem, the American student barred from entering Israel for supposed support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Israel ordered in May the deportation of Omar Shakir, a senior Human Rights Watch official, citing his alleged anti-Israel activities and involvement in the BDS movement. Shakir rejects the accusations.

>> Israel wants to deport Human Rights Watch official. So did Egypt and Syria

Shakir, a U.S. citizen who previously worked for the New York-based Human Rights Watch 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 by Interior Minister Arye Dery.

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

he Jerusalem District Court issued an injunction later in May, temporarily halting Shakir's deportation, saying 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.

In July, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the Israeli government to formally respond to Human Rights Watch's appeal against its decision to revoke Shakir's work permit and to deport him.

The state's deadline to respond is October 21, but it is now requesting additional time until December 1 to study the legal ramifications of Alqasem's appeal that Israel's Supreme Court granted on Thursday.

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 BDS movement.

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 deportation order appears to be the first time Israel’s so-called anti-boycott law was used to deport someone who was already in Israel. In other cases, 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.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court granted the appeal of Lara Alqasem, the American student barred from entering Israel despite having received a student visa from the Israeli consulate in Miami. Alqasem, 22, whom the state claimed was a BDS activist, was detained on October 2 and held over two weeks in a detainment center at Ben-Gurion International Airport after she was flagged as a BDS activist. Alqasemis enrolled in a master’s program in human rights at the Hebrew University.

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.

Shakir's case is the third case related to the anti-boycott law this month. In addition to Alqasem, a Jerusalem administrative appeals court earlier in October invalidated a decision by the state to bar entry into the country by Dr. Isabel Phiri, the deputy secretary general of the World Council of Churches, for supporting BDS.

It its ruling, the judge ruled that the anti-BDS legislation could not be applied retroactively to bar a BDS activist from visiting Israel and that the reasoning provided to her at that time, involving concern over "illegal immigration," was without foundation.

Haaretz 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.

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