November 5, 2019 / 9:45 AM / 6 days ago

Israel's top court clears way for deportation of Human Rights Watch official

(This November 5 story corrects erroneous reference to BDS movement being criminalized and adds explanation that foreign BDS activists can be barred from entering the country)

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine Director, looks on before his hearing at Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government decision to deport a Human Rights Watch (HRW) official accused of backing an international pro-Palestinian boycott campaign, an edict he said was aimed at stifling criticism of Israel.

The court ratified an Interior Ministry refusal to renew the work visa of Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen representing New York-based HRW in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and ordered him to leave within 20 days.

Israeli law allows for authorities to ban the entry of foreign citizens who call for a boycott of Israel.

The Israeli Interior Ministry said Shakir actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and refused to extend his visa. Israel has called on Western powers to act against the BDS movement and Shakir’s case was a test for its anti-boycott legislation.

Calling for boycotts of the state is not a crime in Israel, but those who do so can be subject to civil lawsuits.

Shakir contested the argument that his past pro-Palestinian statements, before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016, constituted current backing for boycotts of Israel.

“Israeli Supreme Court upholds my deportation over my rights advocacy,” Shakir tweeted about the unanimous decision by the three-judge court.

He said that if the Israeli government forces him to leave, it will be joining Iran, North Korea and Egypt in blocking access for HRW officials monitoring rights violations.

“We won’t stop. And we won’t be the last,” Shakir wrote.

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Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he was happy with the decision. “Anyone who acts against the country should know we will not allow them to work or live here,” he said.

Before the ruling, HRW said Israel’s move against Shakir showed it was seeking to suppress rights criticism.

HRW says it does not support boycotts of Israel.

It has defended Shakir’s statements since joining, including a tweet backing online rental service Airbnb’s delisting a year ago of homes in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Airbnb later reversed that decision after intense criticism from Israel and litigation in U.S. and Israeli courts.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said Israel granted hundreds of visas a year to rights activists and invited HRW to appoint a replacement for Shakir.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to Britain and adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, tweeted that the ruling was a “disgraceful but expected outcome because of international inaction”.

Ayman Odeh, a senior politician representing Israel’s Arab minority, added on Twitter that deporting Shakir “only proves to us and to the world the extent to which his work is needed”.

Editing by Alex Richardson and Andrew Cawthorne

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