Israel's Human Rights Watch director expelled over BDS claims

Israel's Human Rights Watch director expelled over BDS claims
HRW watch have accused Israel of muzzling criticism after it gave the group's Israel and Palestine director two weeks to leave the country, accusing him of promoting a boycott movement.
2 min read
09 May, 2018
Israel's decision has sparked comparisons with Egypt and Russia [Getty]

Israel has revoked the work permit of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) director for Israel and Palestine and given him two weeks to leave the country, in a move the rights group said sought to silence criticism of the Israeli government.

The interior ministry said Tuesday it had terminated the residency permit of Omar Shakir, a US citizen, over accusations that he supports a boycott of Israel.

"Following the recommendations of the ministry of strategic affairs, containing information that Shakir has been a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) activist for years supporting the boycott of Israel in an active way, the ministry has decided to terminate (his) residence permit," the interior ministry said in a statement.

Israeli officials have recently clamped down on groups seen as supporting the global campaign for BDS, which aims to pressure Tel Aviv to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

A new law was introduced by Israel in March 2017, barring access to the country for individuals and groups who have previously expressed support of the BDS movement.

This includes those who want to enter the Palestinian territories, as they must also pass through Israeli border controls.

HRW has written several critical reports about the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. 

In its statement, Israel accuses HRW's activities and reports of having "engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of 'human rights'".

Israel's current government - a coalition of right-wing and far-right nationalist parties - has been accused of putting pressure on both international and local rights organisations.

Shakir, who received permission to work in Israel in April 2017, months after being barred from the country, now has 14 days to leave, the New York-based rights group said.

"This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel's rights record," said Iain Levine, deputy executive director for program at Human Rights Watch.

"Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services' playbook."

HRW say they will challenge the decision in Israeli court.

The group say that neither they nor Shakir support boycotts of Israel.

The BDS movement is seen by many activists as one of the few remaining avenues of effective non-violent resistance to the brutal and persistent Israeli occupation.

Agencies contributed to this report.