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Supreme Court rules Israel can expel top Human Rights Watch director

Israel’s top court says Omar Shakir can be deported, escalating the government’s efforts to silence criticism of its policies. His case has been described as a watershed moment for human rights advocacy and free speech in Israel.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch (Courtesy of Omar Shakir).

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch (Courtesy of Omar Shakir).

Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the deportation of the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch Omar Shakir on Tuesday after a lengthy legal battle to allow him to remain in the country.

Justices Neal Hendel, Noam Sohlberg, and Yael Willner accepted the state’s claim that Shakir, a U.S. citizen, supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, rejecting Shakir and Human Rights Watch’s appeal against his expulsion.

Shakir says he will now have 20 days to leave or face deportation.

Shakir’s case has been described as a watershed moment for free speech and human rights advocacy in Israel. By ordering his deportation, Israel joins countries like North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, which have also blocked access to the organization’s staff members.

The ruling is based on the 2017 amendment to the Prevention of Entry into Israel Law, which authorizes the the interior minister to withhold temporary visas or residency to any non-Israeli citizen who has publicly called for or pledged to participate in a boycott of Israel. In August, Israel relied on the law to prevent Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country.

Last year, Israel’s Interior Ministry revoked Shakir’s work permit and ordered his deportation within two weeks. This was the first time that the Israeli government had used the 2017 amendment to its Law of Entry to deport someone already present in the country.

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Israel’s decision was largely based on an intelligence dossier that the Strategic Affairs Ministry compiled of Shakir’s activism for Palestinian rights before joining HRW. As co-president of Students for Palestinian Equal Rights at Stanford, Shakir had called on the universtiy to divest from companies that profit from the occupation.

HRW, represented by Israeli human rights attorneys Michael Sfard, Sophia Brodsky and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, then filed a lawsuit against the government’s deportation order.

Israel argues that it has a right to defend itself and protect its citizens from “a political-diplomatic boycott by non-state actors who wish to undermine the foundations of the existence of the state in question.” The anti-boycott law, however, does not distinguish between calls for boycott of Israel’s settlement enterprise, which violates international law, and statements and actions that target the state.

The state has also stated that it does not take issue with HRW as an organization, but with Shakir himself. In Tuesday’s ruling, Justice Hendel said that “Human Rights Watch is not classified as a boycott organization – and it can request the employment of another representative who is not involved up to their neck in BDS activity.” According to HRW, however, Shakir has been following and implementing the organization’s policies.

HRW, the independent U.S. nonprofit established in 1978 and now operating in 90 countries, “takes no position on boycotts of Israel. This isn’t some special Israel policy, it’s part of how we do work everywhere in the world,” Shakir said on The +972 Podcast in May.

Listen here: iTunes/Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify

“Today, the political litmus test to enter Israel seems to be support for boycotts. Could it tomorrow be calling for the International Criminal Court to open an investigation, or even calling for withdrawal of settlements, or saying the West Bank is occupied? Today, these restrictions are being used to block somebody from entering the country. Could it tomorrow be the basis to restrict the activities of Israeli and Palestinian rights defenders?” he added.

According to Shakir, his case is not about BDS, as Israel claims, but about “muzzling human rights advocacy.” Dozens of Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups have criticized his deportation order, as well as the UN Secretarly General, 27 European states and 17 Congresspeople, describing the chilling impact this will have on those who challenge Israel’s policies.

In late October, Israel banned Palestinian Amnesty International campaigner Laith Abu Zeyad from traveling to Jordan for his aunt’s funeral, for what Israeli authorities explained as “security considerations.” Amnesty, on the other hand, wrote that this was “a sinister move imposed as punishment for his work defending human rights of Palestinians.” In 2017, Israel denied entry to the organization’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Raed Jarrar, while on a personal visit to the occupied territories following the death of his father.

Last year, Israel denied entry to four human rights leaders from the United States who were visiting Israel and the West Bank to better understand the situation on the ground. The members who were deported include Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Katherine Franke, chair of CCR’s board and Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Columbia University. The two were questioned about their political affiliation with groups critical of Israel, and Franke was accused of being associated with the BDS movement.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Rivka Koen

      “The only democracy in the Middle East.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordine

        Of course. Israel has democratically enacted laws and foreigners must respect them.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Except the settlers are foreigners. The Court, posing as a judicial body with independence, is in fact a timid, rubber stamp ratifier of the actions of a secret police state-settler complex that manufactures evidence to fit whatever outcome it wants. For context, see the excerpt below from the article by Michael Sfard (“Despite its flaws, we need to fight for Israel’s High Court”).

          Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordine

            The Supreme Court only respected a democratically voted law. For information HRW continues its activities in Israel. It’s only his local director, an American who broke the law, whose residence visa was not renewed. All the rest is just teen words.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            He broke no law, it’s a trumped up charge designed to politically persecute him, silence his voice for human rights, and persecute HRW. Supreme Courts that are genuine Supreme Courts (which Israel’s High Court clearly is not) do not meekly “respect” laws passed by a legislature, they subject those laws to judicial review. As a co-equal branch of government. (Missed this teen civics lesson?)

            Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      For once, this is a good decision by the Supreme Court.
      This Shakir turd should be put on the next plane leaving to Uncle Scam.
      Let him BDS himself over there.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The very idea that this is “for once” a far right settlement enabling decision by the Supreme Court is falsifying, normalizing the occupation and the Court’s role in it. The idea that the Court is “leftist,” when it comes to colonizing the West Bank at least, is preposterous. It has been the settlers’ devoted handmaiden, constantly enabling the settlers illegal project and ignoring the rights of others:

        “Yes, for many years the High Court had an affair with its own Delilah — the settlement movement and occupation, which planted the seeds of apartheid. Its justices were the ones who enabled the establishment of settlements, land expropriation, and the exploitation of natural resources in occupied territories for the benefit of the occupier and in clear violation of prohibitions set in international law.

        It was the High Court justices who authorized every method of dispossession and domination conjured up by the occupier-annexationist mind — from deporting Palestinian political activists and leaders to demolishing hundreds of homes of families of terror suspects to assassinations, administrative detentions, curfews, sieges, and even opening fire at demonstrators on the Gaza border.

        There, in the occupied Palestinian territories, the justices allowed the messianic right to do almost everything it wanted, until it grew from a parasite into a predator that threatened the very hand that fed it. There, in the occupied Palestinian territories, the justices helped establish the state that Netanyahu and his allies want to establish here, within Israel’s pre-1967 borders: a state without checks on power, where nationalist values overpower universal ones, where political opposition and criticism are beyond the pale, where dissenters are silenced, deemed enemies, arrested and punished.

        In the 1980s, the Israeli left warned of a “creeping annexation” of the “territories” to Israel. But it turns out the process actually taking place is the opposite: Israel is being annexed to the occupied territories, and the High Court’s corpus of rulings vis-à-vis the occupation is the oil which smoothens it….

        A few retired High Court justices have given interviews and made public statements in recent weeks about the threats the court is facing. They are worried. They are angry. They are bewildered. But they cannot wash their hands of this. They legitimized the tyranny there and their astonishment over the fact that it has arrived here is childish and feigns innocence.”

        https://972mag.com/high-court-israel-democracy-netanyahu-rule-of-law/141497/

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordine

          I will answer very briefly this avalanche of words: It is for us of liberated and not annexed territories, that it likes or not to some. Our historical, national and religious legacy is worth more than the blah blah of some US leftist

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Your answer is certainly brief—and lacking in substance, being a monotonous recitation, almost an incantation, of judeofascist-settler slogans divorced from the human and strategic reality on the ground. It always comes attached, fittingly, to your admission that any complex non-sloganeering thought is just too much for you, an “avalanche” that buries you. If we were skiers, it’s as if you are on the bunny slope and complaining that I’m unfairly kicking snow at you and yelling for the St. Bernards to rescue you.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Firentis

      Finally the Supreme Court actually does something right.

      The idea that Israel has an obligation to allow a foreign anti-Israel activist to stay in the country is absolutely bonkers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You have to look at the company you’re keeping. North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. What you share with them is that you have a lot of things you don’t want the outside world to see. And you cannot tolerate any attention to human rights. That you construe that attention as “anti-Israel” says the same thing in a different way. The BDS charge is plainly cooked up. A form of political persecution. If israel cannot tolerate the presence of someone as decent and discerning as Omar Shakir, then that too says a great deal.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          I don’t care what other countries are doing. And I don’t care what organization he works for. There is a foreigner in the country who makes it his business to actively campaign against the foreign and domestic policies of the country. He has no inherent right to be present in the country and the country has every right and even the obligation to expel someone who so brazenly takes advantage of its hospitality.

          The idea that there is something happening in Israel that isn’t immediately broadcast far and wide, and far beyond the scale of its import, is also laughable.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is a tacit admission that the systematic deprivation of human rights is the foreign and domestic policy of the country of Israel. And that Israel can tolerate no attention to human rights or the lack thereof.

            Framing it as Israel’s “hospitality” to a human rights worker is a nice humorous touch. Reminds me of the hospitality Israel showed Peter Beinart at Ben Gurion. And that hospitality shown congresswomen from your closest, best ally. That famous Israeli hospitality and good manners.

            “far beyond the scale of its import”

            You are always good for an expression of disdain for human rights and their significance, and an insistence that the whole problem is that the world is out to get you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            It’s only an admission that Shakir is an anti-Israel activist that cloaks himself in the veil of human rights. There is more than enough attention to the Israeli human rights record. Certainly far more than it deserves compared to other conflicts in the world. It doesn’t require one specific poorly chosen representative of an in itself biased and corrupt organization to be present in the country.

            Israel allowed him in the country. It certainly didn’t have to and certainly shouldn’t have, but it did. So, yes, hospitality. And he overstayed it.

            The ‘world’ isn’t out to get anyone. There are lots of organizations and countries that make it their business to ‘get us’ in any way possible and in a disproportionate manner. For example, notice the difference between the treatment Israel got for dealing with the attempted infiltration from Gaza compared to the actions of Turkey in Syria or the actions of the Iraqi government in Iraq. Anyone that doesn’t see a massive double standard gives themselves away as a rank partisan.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Aside from the fact that you insert the false premise that Turkey and Syria do not get proportionate attention, again, this is a tacit admission that your real complaint is that you are not being judged by the standards of ruthless bloodthirsty dictators and totalitarians and chaotic countries, but by the standards of western democracies with European cultural heritages, which in every other way you insist on being considered by. This is telling. And there is another false premise here. If there is a “double standard” it in reality runs counter to the right wing Israeli narrative. Israel is in fact judged by a remarkably relaxed and forgiving version of those western standards, with a lot of looking the other way and a forgiving stance, is in fact given a pass no other country gets:

            The world’s blatant double standard – in Israel’s favor
            https://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/

            Reply to Comment
    4. Eric

      “By ordering his deportation, Israel joins countries like North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, which have also blocked access to the organization’s staff members.”

      Sadly, several of those countries have good reason to keep HRW out, as it often seems to collaborate with the State Department in one-sidedly targeting official U.S. enemies. So perhaps Israel is correct:
      “The state has also stated that it does not take issue with HRW as an organization, but with Shakir himself.”

      Shakir, it seems, is a person of principle. HRW is obliged to defend him, but how happy is it?

      Reply to Comment
      • Rivka Koen

        Watch in real-time as a pseudo-leftist twists to wrap their head around the fact that Israel, an evil, demonic, colonialist ally of the evil, demonic, imperialist United States, agrees with the all-sacred, terribly-persecuted former allies of the Good, Holy, Anti-Imperialist, Savior-of-the-Worker USSR in the matter of contempt for human rights.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Eric: This is a striking smear actually, one that sounds like it could have been sent by a North Korean “internet research agency”: HRW as “one-sided” State Department “collaborator.” And these states have “good reason” to keep HRW out. Wow.

        It is an internally illogical smear on at least two counts.

        1. If HRW is an evil “collaborator” then why should Israel be “correct” to not take issue with HRW as an organization, but with Shakir himself?

        2. But if HRW “often seems to collaborate with the State Department in one-sidedly targeting official U.S. enemies,” then what has Israel, the opposite of an official U.S. enemy, to fear? If HRW is in cahoots with the Trump administration to do one-sided hit jobs, is a U.S. puppet, as you insinuate, then HRW should be counted on to whitewash what Israel does in the territories.

        Your whole argument is an incoherent jumble, a hodgepodge of internally inconsistent
        insinuations cobbled together without any evidence you actually thought this out before you hit “submit.”

        Reply to Comment
    5. Firentis

      Either the standard is universal or it is a double standard. Turkey is carrying out ethnic cleansing right now in Syria. Like an actual ethnic cleansing. Not the nonsense you twist in pretzels to accuse Israel of things. How much attention is being paid to that? None. Where are the UN and the alphabet soup of organizations that come out with fire and brimstone when a Jew builds a shed?

      You want to apply the standards of Scandinavia to just one country in the Middle East. That’s called a double standard and it is blatant for all to see.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Nonsense. Your perspective on Turkey etc. is distorted by attention bias–the bias incurred by attending to the attention you get but not the attention others get. Classically you think you are being “singled out” when you are not:

        The world’s blatant double standard – in Israel’s favor
        https://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/

        This is a site about Israel, not Turkey or China or elsewhere, but you can go back to several posts I’ve put down on this castigating Trump for abandoning the Kurds, calling it a terrible betrayal. (While right wing Israelis continue to love Trump–he’s just great in their eyes–“what’s the problem?” they say. So much for practicing what you preach about not singling out–the singling out right wingers do is singling out Israel for special excuses.) And calling attention to the horrific persecution of the Uighur minority among other things. And you can go to several posts by ‘Rivka Koen’ for example talking about diaspora Jews uniting with fights for other persecuted and downtrodden peoples, maybe that intersectionality you hate and mock. When liberal Jews get intersectional or global in scope, you mock it, but when liberals don’t, then Israel is “singled out.” We see how this works.

        And it is Israel, with vast numbers of European immigrants historically, with a huge European cultural inheritance from its birth, that wants to tout itself as Scandinavia on the Mediterranean in every single way that advantages it in terms of clubbing with the West financially, business-wise, aid-wise, culturally, esteem-wise, “the only democracy”-propaganda-wise, etc., but when it comes to its persecution of the Palestinians then the refrain becomes “you want to apply the standards of the Swedes??!!, no fair!”

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Ben – just END the “persecution” of the “so-called fakestinyans”
          BY REPATRIATING THEM BACK TO JORDAN !

          Reply to Comment
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