Israeli court upholds deportation of Human Rights Watch official

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The director of the Israeli office of Human Rights Watch on Tuesday lost his appeal against deportation, having been accused of promoting pro-Palestinian boycotts of Israel, the Justice Ministry said.

FILE PHOTO: Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, is seen at his hearing at the district court in Jerusalem March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Omar Shakir had contested the revocation of his work permit last year. The New York-based watchdog has cast his case as a bid to suppress global criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Israel says that Shakir, a U.S. citizen, supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel has criminalized BDS and has lobbied Western powers to follow suit.

Human Right Watch called the ruling “a new and dangerous interpretation of the law”, and said it would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court and seek an injunction to let Shakir stay in Israel until any appeal was heard.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Court said that Shakir supported the boycott of Israel and of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. It gave him until May 1 to leave the country.

“The appellant continues to call publicly for a boycott of Israel, or parts of it, while at the same time asking (Israel) to open its doors to him,” said the ruling distributed by the Justice Ministry.

Human Right Watch said that neither it nor Shakir as its representative promoted boycotts of Israel.

“The decision sends the chilling message that those who criticize the involvement of businesses in serious abuses in Israeli settlements risk being barred from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan welcomed the court’s decision. “We will not allow the promotion of boycotts under the disguise of ‘human rights activists’ as Shakir did,” Erdan said on Twitter.

The Palestinians and many countries consider settlements to be illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in 1967. Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and withdrawn from Gaza. The West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation with limited Palestinian self rule.

Reporting by Stephen Farrell and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Maayan Lubell