The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday to uphold the state’s decision to deport Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, over accusations that he advocates for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement — the international Palestinian-led boycott campaign criminalized by Israel in recent years.
The decision came after a more than year-long battle between Shakir, a U.S. citizen, and the Israeli Ministry of Interior, which refused to renew his work visa in 2018 under the pretext that he violated a 2017 law banning foreign nationals who support anti-Israel boycotts.
Tuesday’s decision was a response to an appeal launched by Shakir in April following a Jerusalem district court’s decision to uphold the ministry’s refusal of his visa.
According to HRW, the decision whether to force Shakir to leave the country still rests with the Israeli government. If the latter chooses to continue with the deportation, he must abandon his post in Jerusalem and leave the country within 20 days.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri praised the decision, saying “anyone who acts against the country should know we will not allow them to work or live here.”
Shakir took to Twitter to comment on his deportation, saying Israel will “join ranks of Iran, North Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official. We won’t stop. And we won’t be the last.”
Breaking: Israeli Supreme Court upholds my deportation over my rights advocacy. Decision now shifts back to Israeli gov; if it proceeds, I have 20 days to leave & it’ll join ranks of Iran, N Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official. We wont stop. And we wont be the last https://t.co/Wf4FAyK2Qk
— Omar Shakir (@OmarSShakir) November 5, 2019
“The Supreme Court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
In its official statement on the decision, HRW reiterated Shakir’s position that he never promoted the BDS movement, 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.”
An outpouring of support for Shakir flooded social media, with everyone from US politicians to other human rights organizations expressing their solidarity with the official.
The HCJ decision to deport a human rights activist who dares criticize government policy is a serious blow to democracy and freedom of speech. It hurts all of us.https://t.co/UIIYpvPKiU
— PHRI (@PHRIsrael) November 6, 2019
“Solidarity with Omar Shakir for standing up for human rights regardless of the consequences,” US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar wrote on Twitter. Omar was banned from entering Israel earlier this year, also over her support of the BDS movement.
This is the silencing of political dissent. Deporting and blocking critics who speak out against human rights abuses goes against basic democratic values.
Solidarity with Omar Shakir for standing up for human rights regardless of the consequences. ✊🏽 https://t.co/QPKAcjepud
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 5, 2019
“This is the silencing of political dissent. Deporting and blocking critics who speak out against human rights abuses goes against basic democratic values,” she continued.
New York-based advocacy group Center for Constitutional Rights (CRC) released a statement condemning the move, calling it “outrageous, but not shocking.”
“Each time advocates for Palestinian rights are silenced or punished, it instead draws more attention to—and multiplies—Israel’s long list of human rights violations,” CRC said. “We stand in solidarity with Shakir, Human Rights Watch, and the many other human rights defenders – Palestinian, Israeli, and from around the world – standing up for justice in Palestine.”
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem expressed their solidarity with Shakir in a statement on Facebook, saying “efforts to hide the occupation and silence criticism against it are bound to fail.”
“The decision reflects perfectly the state of affairs at the highest judicial institution in Israel — not rule of law, but legal propaganda at the service of the occupation,” B’Tselem’s director Hagai El-Ad said.
“In essence, the HCJ’s ruling grants a legal seal of approval to the further shrinking of the already limited space in Israel to oppose the occupation. For decades, this space is non-existent for Palestinians; now, it will be diminished further for international stakeholders; and soon, also for Israelis.”