Opinion

Expulsion of Human Rights Watch Director Would Be Big Show of Israeli Hypocrisy

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

The state is to defend its decision to expel Omar Shakir before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday, citing his support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Shakir is Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, one of the most important human rights organizations in the world. But it’s not Shakir the government is trying to expel, it’s Human Rights Watch. Shakir is just the tool.

Human Rights Watch recommended in a report that businesses cease their activities in the settlements, recognizing that commercial entities also have a responsibility with regard to human rights breaches. But the government doesn’t have the courage to declare Human Rights Watch a “BDS organization.” The last time the government tried to keep a Human Rights Watch employee from receiving a work visa, it backed down in the face of broad international criticism. Now it’s trying to bring in through the back door what it could not through the front: We have no problem with Human Rights Watch, the state says, just with Shakir, as if a different employee in the same role as Shakir would sing the praises of the settlements.

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The state doesn’t want to expel Shakir and Human Rights Watch from Israel, but rather from the territories, to stop the organization from scrutinizing the human rights situation there. Thus, this expulsion is no different at all from the assaults on Breaking the Silence or on B’Tselem. The occupation is like sausage: You don’t want to see how it’s made. Human Rights Watch distinguishes between the settlements and Israel.

So does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the free trade agreement he is pursuing with South Korea, which is to exclude West Bank settlements. The same goes for the government, which never annexed the territories yet has the nerve to claim that boycotting the settlements means boycotting Israel proper. The petition against Shakir’s expulsion, submitted by attorney Michael Sfard, who was joined by former ambassadors and Policy Working Group members Ilan Baruch, Alon Liel and Elie Barnavi, mentions another absurdity of the anti-BDS law: It is legitimate to boycott a winery in the territories that discriminates against Ethiopian Israelis, but that very same winery cannot be boycotted because of the infringement of Palestinian human rights. The rights of the latter can continue to be trampled on.

No one can shout at HRW to “go to Syria.” It has already done that. Its criticism is directed at everyone, from Syria and Iran to the United States and Israel. The government loved HRW when its report criticized the arrest and torture of Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority and under Hamas, a report Shakir himself wrote. Shakir has already been forced to leave Syria and Egypt. A host of other countries are trying to prevent HRW from operating in them: North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan and Uzbekistan. Now, the High Court of Justice will decide whether Israel is to join this esteemed list.

We should remember that the government’s policy is not Israel, no matter how power drunk some Likud MKs may become; the boycotting of businesses is a non-violent, legitimate means of protest, however unpopular. All the rest are excuses. If the High Court approves the expulsion, its justices will have signed off on the expulsion from Israel a Nobel Prize-winning organization. The heart of the petition is not Shakir but rather the ability to work for human rights in Israel. Amnesty has already announced that if Shakir is expelled it will have to reconsider its work here. 

The High Court should stop running away from conflict this time, and defend the pursuit of values as is its job. The government might want to turn Israel into another Soviet republic, but there is no reason for the High Court to cooperate.