HRW's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir in Ramallah, May 2018. © 2018 AFP
The Israeli Supreme Court green-lighted on November 5 the deportation of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), the organization has said.
According to HRW, the decision now shifts back to the Israeli government; if it proceeds with deportation, Shakir will have to leave Israel by November 25.
“Human Rights Watch has been calling on businesses to stop operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of their duty to avoid complicity in human rights abuses”, said HRW. “However, even though Human Rights Watch calls on businesses to comply with this duty in many other countries as well, the court found that applying this principle to ensure respect for Palestinians’ rights constitutes a call for boycott, based on a broad reading of a 2017 law that bars entry to people who advocate a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.”
“The Supreme Court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there’s no telling whom it will throw out next.”
The court based its ruling on allegations that Shakir had advocated a boycott of Israel, which the organization vigorously contested, saying Shakir never deviated from the policies and positions of the organization, which does not advocate a boycott of Israel but urges businesses to fulfill their human rights responsibilities by ending ties with illegal West Bank settlements.
HRW said that “according to the court, the Israeli government may, under the law, ban entry to those who call for boycotting West Bank settlements because such a call entails opposition to a general policy of the government of Israel regarding an area under its control . . . even if settlements are widely viewed as illegal under international law.”
The court also reckoned that a call on businesses to backtrack from activities in settlements represents a call for boycott under the law even if it is motivated by respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.
According to the organization, former senior Israeli diplomats had joined Human Rights Watch’s appeal, as did Amnesty International, which raised concern about the “wider chilling effect” on other human rights groups and the “increasing risk to their ability to continue operating in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
HRW said that many others have criticized the deportation order, including 27 European states in a joint statement, 17 members of the United States Congress, the United Nations secretary general, 3 UN human rights special rapporteurs, and numerous independent groups and academic associations.
“Neither Human Rights Watch nor Shakir as its representative has ever called for a boycott of Israel”, said the organization. “As part of its global campaign to ensure that businesses uphold their human rights responsibilities to avoid contributing to abuses, Human Rights Watch has urged companies to stop working in or with settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international humanitarian law.”
“Today’s Supreme Court decision puts the imprimatur of Israeli law on the Netanyahu government’s efforts to censor mainstream, legitimate human rights advocacy,” Roth said. “Despite the Israeli government’s effort to silence the messenger rather than change its illegal conduct, Human Rights Watch will continue to document human rights abuses by all parties in Israel and Palestine.”
Headquartered in New York City, Human Rights Watch defines itself as an independent, international, nongovernmental organization that promotes respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. It monitors rights violations in 100 counties across the world, including all 19 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.