Israel’s ‘cowardly’ deportation of human rights activist

29th Nov 2019

Elham Asaad Buaras

Israel’s lawmakers and courts were branded “cowardly” by Amnesty International after the country’s Supreme Court had upheld the Government’s decision to deport a human rights activist.

The ruling on November 5 means that Human Rights Watch (HRW) Omar Shakir, who oversees Israeli and Palestinian policy for the international rights’ checks, is to be deported under a 2017 law that bans foreigners who publicly call for boycotts of Israel or its illegal settlements.

Shakir, a US national, is accused of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The decision (and the law on which it is based on) was met with outrage by civil right campaigners – as a worrying danger to free expression.

Twenty-three Israeli civil society organisations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights issued a joint statement against the decision to deport Shakir.

‘The Supreme Court continues to legitimise the Israeli Government’s policy to silence criticism of its human rights violations in the oPt. Israel is trying to hide the occupation from view, but we will continue, together with Omar Shakir, to support peace activists and human rights activists who strive to expose the injustices of the occupation and bring it to an end,’ said the group in a statement.

HRW Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, said the Court had “declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights.”

“If the Government now deports HRW’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there’s no telling whom it will throw out next.” Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri welcomed the verdict.

“Anyone who acts against the country should know we will not allow them to work or live here,” he said. Israel has used the law to block more than a dozen people from entering the country – including, most notably, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who have been outspoken critics of Israeli Government policies. Israel later allowed Tlaibentry, who decided to cancel her trip anyway.

The UN has also slammed Israel over Shakir’s case, with a spokesperson for Secretary-general António Guterres expressing concern earlier this year “about the shrinking space for human rights defenders to operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

HRW maintains that during his time with the group, Shakir “never deviated” from its policy on the issue which “does not advocate a boycott of Israel but urges businesses to fulfil their human rights responsibilities by ending ties with illegal West Bank settlements.”

Human Rights Watch says that supporting businesses’ decisions to end ties with the illegal settlements do not amount to calling for an outright boycott. Amnesty International called the decision “a cowardly move that confirms Israel’s oppressive intent on silencing independent human rights organisations at any cost.”

“With this ruling,” Saleh Higazi of Amnesty International said, “the court has made it explicitly clear that those who dare to speak out about human rights violations by the Israeli authorities will be treated as enemies of the state.”

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