Israel’s interior ministry opted not to sign off on a work permit renewal of Omar Shakir – Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director – on May 7 over his alleged support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Both HRW and Shakir deny having any part in the movement.
Israel considers BDS – which demands an end to the occupation of Palestine, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees to their homes – to be anti-Jewish.
Iain Levine from Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday the move was an attempt to “muzzle” the non-governmental organisation.
“This is not about Shakir but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” Levine said.
“Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook.”
Israel denied a request from HRW last year for a permit to employ Shakir, an American citizen, as a foreign expert, prompting criticism from the United States, before later approving a one-year work visa.
Interior Minister Arye Dery said information collected on Shakir indicated he was active in BDS.
“It is inconceivable for a boycott activist to get an Israeli visa so he can do whatever he can to harm the country,” Dery said in a statement.
HRW’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth accused Israel of trying to “silence” the organisation.
Human Rights Watch staff is based and operates freely in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. But Israel, which claims to be the lone democracy in the region, joins ranks of N Korea, Sudan and Iran to try to silence @HRW by ordering our country director deported. https://t.co/xmzVrR5YOo pic.twitter.com/yqQsgjjOJm
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) May 8, 2018
In a joint statement on Wednesday, 15 Israeli human rights groups condemned Israel’s decision to expel Shakir.
“Israel’s decision to deport a Human Rights Watch official – and the growing list of people to whom it denies entry for criticizing of the occupation – place Israel squarely on a list of disreputable states,” it said.
“The governments of such states try to control people’s minds, thoughts and actions, instead of safeguarding people’s freedom of speech, and their freedom to act and protest government policies.”