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A Political Deportation

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Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director, looks up before his hearing at Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem September 24, 2019.
Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director, looks up before his hearing at Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem September 24, 2019. Credit: \ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

For the first time since a law was passed forbidding foreign nationals who advocate boycotting Israel to enter or remain in the country, the Supreme Court approved the deportation on Tuesday of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, because of his support for the BDS movement. Justices Neal Hendel, Noam Sohlberg and Yael Willner rejected an appeal by Shakir and his organization, saying they found nothing wrong with Interior Minister Arye Dery’s decision not to renew Shakir’s visa to work in Israel.

In deciding to deport HRW’s representative, Israel has taken another step down the dubious road of authoritarian regimes that deny human rights and silence criticism at any cost, like Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Gilad Erdan, who is both the public security minister and the minister for strategic affairs, unsurprisingly welcomed the decision. He argued that the deportation was justified because Shakir had exploited his presence in Israel to harm the country, adding that “no sane country would allow this.” But Erdan’s remarks merely reinforce the sick logic of the fight against the boycott movement, which deliberately blurs the distinction between opposing the occupation and opposing Israel’s existence and aggressively identifies people who fight to end the occupation with Israel’s enemies.

This, of course, is deceptive right-wing demagoguery, and it ignores the main argument of opponents of the occupation, who see the occupation itself as the greatest threat to Israel’s future. A truly sane country wouldn’t hold another people under military occupation for more than half a century. A sane country that has nothing to hide would welcome organizations whose goal is to protect human rights. A sane country would do everything in its power to end conflicts rather than investing all its time, energy and resources, both material and human, in undermining and incriminating people who fight to end the occupation.

In their ruling, the justices accepted the distinction the state drew between the organization (which isn’t classified as a boycott advocate) and Shakir himself (who has been involved in BDS activity), thereby giving HRW the option of sending a different representative to Israel. But this is legal hair-splitting, which pays close attention to the letter of the law but ignores justice. The very fact that Israel has intervened in determining the political identity of the organization’s representatives is unacceptable.

Israel can continue to enact laws and deport activists, but it won’t be able to make what is self-evident go away: In contrast to terrorism, advocating boycotts is a nonviolent method of struggle. The battle against the boycott movement is another attempt to prevent any form of opposition to the occupation. Who can guarantee that the same logic won’t eventually be used against Israeli citizens who oppose the occupation?

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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