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10 May, 2018 18:16

Israel kicks out high-ranking HRW official over past BDS activism

Human Rights Watch (HRW) director for Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir is being deported by Israeli authorities. They accuse him of supporting the boycott movement as HRW decries the move as an attempt to shun criticism.

Shakir's work permit has been revoked and he has to leave Israel within the next 14 days, the Interior Ministry informed HRW in a letter earlier this week. The ruling was based on an Israeli dossier compiled against Shakir, which claimed that the US citizen of Iraqi origin, "has actively and consistently supported strategies calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel (BDS), since his early days as a student and into the present. He often retweets and shares content on BDS against Israel." 

Shakir has been ordered to start packing despite the fact that the majority of his activities mentioned in the dossier took place before his employment with HRW as a foreign expert in 2016. The ministry specified that the decision relates solely to Shakir and "does not constitute a principled or sweeping refusal for the organization to employ a foreign expert."

It is "unacceptable that a boycott activist gets a permit to stay in Israel in order that [he] can act in every way possible to harm the state," Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said, as quoted by The Times of Israel. "I will work to remove such people from Israel by all means at my disposal and therefore Omar Shakir will leave Israel," Deri added.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who was the one to recommend the revocation of Shakir's work permit, argued that human rights activism was a "false pose" of the HRW official and some others willing to harm the Jewish state.

Shakir's initial application to represent HRW in Israel had been turned down in February 2017, as the country argued that the entire human rights organization's "public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda." Shakir was eventually granted a work visa in late April last year.

Human Rights Watch said on its website that it is going to appeal against the deportation of its employee in court. "Israeli authorities should reverse the decision," the group stressed.

The statement insisted that neither HRW nor Shakir as an individual are engaged in promoting boycotts of Israel. BDS is an international campaign that was launched in Palestine in 2005 in order to persuade Israel to cease the occupation of the West Bank through academic, business and cultural boycotts, as well as other measures.

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

HRW noted that Israeli authorities are actively working to hamper the activities of human rights organizations in the country. Local advocacy groups have been accused of "slander" and have been put under extensive financial monitoring, while the "Palestinian rights defenders have received anonymous death threats and have been subject to travel restrictions and even arrest and criminal charges."

READ MORE: 'That will teach them': Israeli soldiers gloat & cheer as they shoot Palestinian protesters (VIDEO)

In late April, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Vincent Warren and CCR board chair Katherine Franke were denied entry to Israel. The rights advocates were detained for 14 hours and interrogated at the Ben Gurion Airport before being sent back to the US.

"The Israeli government denied us entry, apparently because it feared letting in people who might challenge its policies," Warren said after the incident. In 2016, the CCR filed war crimes lawsuits against former Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya'alon and former head of Shin Bet security agency Avi Dichter over the deadly Israeli shelling of a UN compound in Lebanon in 1996.

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