Opinion

Israel Wants to Deport Human Rights Watch Official. So Did Egypt and Syria

Israel claims to be the region’s only democracy, yet it is deporting a rights defender over his peaceful expression, joining the ranks of Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela

FILE PHOTO - Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, sits at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2018.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

One year after granting me a work permit to take up my post on the ground as Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, the Israeli government has ordered me to leave the country.

They say they’re deporting me because I support boycotts of Israel.

Israel claims to be the region’s only democracy, yet it is deporting a rights defender over his peaceful expression, joining the ranks of countries like Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela who have blocked access for Human Rights Watch staff. Human Rights Watch has offices in Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia. More to the point, the claim isn’t true, as the Interior Ministry itself acknowledged that neither Human Rights Watch nor I as its representative promote boycotts of Israel.

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Instead, the government based its decision on an intelligence dossier on me compiled by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which included such evidence as screenshots of student group websites, tweets and petitions I signed, most of which date back years to when I was a student at Stanford University. We’ve filed a lawsuit challenging this decision and the draconian law it was based on.

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

This action, rather, is the culmination of a months-long campaign by the government to shut down our criticism of its human rights record.

This isn’t the first time a country has barred me from entry for my criticism.

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In 2009, Syria denied me a visa after an official said that my writing “reflected poorly on the Syrian government.” In 2014, I was forced to leave Egypt after I wrote a report for Human Rights Watch documenting the Rab’a Massacre, one of the world’s largest single-day killings of protesters. A year ago, Bahrain held me for 18 hours and denied me entry after I identified myself as working for Human Rights Watch.

If I’ve learned anything from these experiences, it’s this: no country will succeed in hiding its human rights abuses by expelling those who document them.

Omar Shakir is the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch