Israel Becomes a Member of a Dubious Club

Haaretz Editorial
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Omar Shakir at Ben Gurion airport on November 25, 2019.Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

Following a year and a half of legal proceedings against him, Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, went to Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday and left the country. Since legislation was passed enabling Israel to deny entry to foreigners who call for political boycotts of either Israel or its settlements, this is the first time the government has used this law to deport a permanent representative of a human rights organization, which happens to be one of the largest and most important in the world.

The deportation was approved by the Supreme Court, whose justices – Noam Sohlberg, Neal Hendel and Yael Willner – rejected HRW’s appeal, saying they found “no flaw” in Interior Minister Arye Dery’s May 2018 decision not to renew Shakir’s work and residence visa. The justification for Dery’s decision was that Shakir “frequently retweets and shares material about BDS,” in the words of the complaint drafted by the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for implementing the anti-boycott law.

Unlike a great many other injustices that take place in Israel every day under the auspices of protecting its occupation project, in this case, Shakir isn’t leaving as a victim. In the coming days, he will embark on a round of lectures and meetings on this issue in Europe, which will include briefing the European Parliament and meeting with officials in Britain, Germany, France, Holland and Sweden. He will also remain HRW’s point man for monitoring human rights violations in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, doing the job from another nearby country, most likely Jordan.

Thus the party most badly hurt by this affair will be Israel. Shakir’s reports on what is happening in the territories will continue to be distributed by his organization, just as HRW still reports on other countries that have also deported its representatives in the past, like North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan and Iran. Shakir will become a living witness to the fact that Israel has joined this undistinguished club of countries that fight human rights organizations, and living proof of Israel’s repeated efforts to hide and whitewash its policy of occupation.

The case against Shakir, as dictated by the law, also included allegations that he supports boycotting the settlements. This is a position that many Israelis share, yet representatives of foreign organizations are now being deported because of it. This is the open secret of the government’s battle against the boycott movement: It deliberately blurs the distinction between opposing the occupation and opposing Israel’s existence, while marking people who fight to end the occupation as enemies of the state. If this trend continues, then after the foreigners, it will surely be the turn of rebellious Israelis.

A country that has nothing to hide doesn’t deport observers from major international organizations. Now that the government has chosen this draconian tactic, it shouldn’t be surprised if opposition to its policies merely intensifies among people worldwide who think that defending human rights is still an inseparable part of democratic values.

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