Israel’s High Court upheld a government decision to deport a Human Rights Watch (HRW) official accused of backing an international pro-Palestinian boycott campaign, an edict he said was aimed at stifling criticism of Israel.
The court ratified an Interior Ministry refusal to renew the work visa of Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen representing New York-based HRW in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and ordered him to leave within 20 days.
Israel says he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which it has criminalized. It has lobbied Western powers to follow suit, and Shakir’s case was a test for its anti-boycott legislation.
Shakir contested the argument that his past pro-Palestinian statements, before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016, constituted current backing for boycotts of Israel.
However, the judges found otherwise: “After examining [Omar Shakir’s] actions and statements, they have led to the conclusion that not only did he not prove that he had abandoned his calls for a boycott of Israel, but has continued to carry out his agenda as evident from his actions and statements. Since being allowed to enter the country, the justification surrounding the accusations against the petitioner regarding exploiting his stay in the country have been shown true. The petitioner continues to publicly call for a boycott against the State of Israel or parts of it, and in the same breath, requests Israel open its doors to him.”
The ruling went on to state, “Not only was there [from Shakir] systematic support for BDS which continued after he began his work for the organization [HRW], his conduct surrounding FIFA, as well as his repeated calls for boycotting Israeli assets in the region, is based on a sweeping denial of the legitimacy of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. In these circumstances, there is no reason to intervene in the previous ruling. This is a case in which a boycott was promoted only because of an affinity for the area [Israel] ─ as opposed to its conduct. Therefore, the Minister’s decision does not go beyond the limits of his authority.”
“Israeli Supreme Court upholds my deportation over my rights advocacy,” Shakir tweeted about the unanimous decision by the three-judge court.
He said that if the Israeli government forces him to leave, it will be joining Iran, North Korea and Egypt in blocking access for HRW officials monitoring rights violations.
“We won’t stop. And we won’t be the last,” Shakir wrote.
Israeli Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri said he was happy with the decision. “Anyone who acts against the country should know we will not allow them to work or live here,” he said.
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said Israel granted hundreds of visas a year to rights activists and invited HRW to appoint a replacement for Shakir, according to AP.
Before the ruling, HRW claimed Israel’s move against Shakir showed it was seeking to suppress rights criticism.
HRW says it does not support boycotts of Israel.
It has defended Shakir’s statements since joining, including a tweet backing online rental service Airbnb’s delisting a year ago of homes in Israeli communities in Yehudah and Shomron.
Airbnb later reversed that decision after intense criticism from Israel and litigation in U.S. and Israeli courts.
Updated Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at 3:18 pm Quotes from ruling