JERUSALEM - Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday heard the appeal of the local director of Human Rights Watch, who is seeking to block an attempt by the government to expel him for allegedly supporting an international boycott movement against Israel.
A lower court in April upheld a decision not to renew Omar Shakir's work visa and ordered him to leave the country, saying his advocacy against Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank amounts to support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. Israeli law bars entry to those who publicly support a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.
“We want to be able to do the same work we do in nearly 100 countries across the world and here in Israel”, Shakir said, speaking to reporters outside the courtroom. “The kind of work we've been doing in Israel for three decades, the kind of work that we've done with Palestinian Authority, with Hamas, with every country in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Human Rights Watch says neither it nor Shakir has called for an outright boycott of Israel. It says Shakir, who is a U.S. citizen, is being targeted for the rights group's opposition to the settlements and its calls for companies to stop working with the settlements. The settlements, built on land seized by Israel in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for their future state, are considered illegal by most of the international community.
Tuesday's hearing had been delayed for months and an immediate ruling was not expected.
Shakir said he was “grateful” for support he has received from local partners and expressed hope the court would allow him to continue his work monitoring human rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian areas.
Israel has adopted a tough stance in recent years toward the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which it says is aimed at delegitimizing Israel's existence and wiping it off the map. The BDS movement presents itself as a non-violent campaign for Palestinian rights and does not endorse a specific solution to the conflict.
Maurice Hirsch, a lawyer for the pro-Israel NGO monitor, said it had presented evidence going back to 2010 of Shakir publicly supporting BDS. Shakir took up his position with Human Rights Watch in 2016.
“There are 800 other human rights organizations that are active in Israel. Letting Mr. Shakir leaving the country will not in any way affect Israel's democracy, will not in any way silence the criticism of Israel whatever it may be, but it will be a step to silencing the BDS activity of Omar Shakir himself,” he said.
Nic Dawes, the deputy executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the effort to deport Shakir marked the culmination “of a three-year effort to frustrate our work, including work on the ways in which business in the settlements benefits from and contributes to human rights violations.”
He said Israel risked joining countries like Syria and Egypt, where Shakir was prevented from working, and countries like Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, which bar Human Rights Watch. He expressed hope that the next government, to formed after last week's elections, would reconsider.