Israel: Landmark Supreme Court Case on Deporting Activist :Crucial Test of Government Efforts to Silence Rights Groups

Jerusalem/PNN/

Israel’s Supreme Court will consider at a hearing on July 25, 2019, whether the Israeli government can deport a Human Rights Watch employee for speaking out on unlawful settlements, Human Rights Watch said today. The case against Omar Shakir, the organization’s Israel-Palestine director, offers the court an opportunity to weigh in on the government’s crackdown on human rights activism in Israel.

“Deporting our director for doing his job is an attack not only on Human Rights Watch, but on the broader human rights movement,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who will attend the hearing in Jerusalem. “If the government gets its way today with Human Rights Watch, who will it throw out next time?”

On May 7, 2018, the government moved to revoke the work visa that it had granted to Shakir a year earlier, invoking a 2017 amendment to the Law of Entry that instructs it to deny entry to persons who advocate for boycotts of Israel. This is the first time the government has used it to try to deport someone lawfully in the country.

Neither Human Rights Watch nor Shakir as its representative has ever called for a boycott of Israel, as the Israeli government itself has acknowledged. As part of its global campaign to ensure businesses uphold their human rights responsibilities and do not contribute to abuses, Human Rights Watch calls on companies to stop working in or with settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. It has not called for a consumer boycott of those companies.

The Jerusalem District Court upheld the government’s expulsion order on April 16, 2019, holding that such advocacy directed at companies constituted pro-boycott activity under the 2017 law. Human Rights Watch appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which granted Shakir an injunction allowing him to remain in Israel while it heard the case.

Human Rights Watch argues that the 2017 law violates constitutionally protected fundamental liberties, including freedom of expression and the prohibition on discrimination based on political or ideological conviction. Individuals have the right to express their views through nonviolent means, including advocating for or against boycotts, the organization said.

Former Israeli officials and human rights groups filed motions to join the appeal. Amnesty International cited potential ramifications for rights groups, and a group of senior Israeli diplomats, including the former Israeli Foreign Ministry general director and ex-ambassadors to France and South Africa, expressed concern that the deportation will hurt Israel’s image. Many others have criticized the deportation order, including 27 European states in a joint statement, 17 members of the US Congress, the UN secretary general, three UN human rights special rapporteurs, and numerous independent groups and academic associations.

The case comes amid increased Israeli government efforts to restrict and harass human rights activists. The Interior Ministry has denied entry to several international rights advocates, accused Israeli groups of “slander” and imposed burdensome financial reporting requirements, and harassed and arrested Palestinian rights defenders.

An independent, international, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization, Human Rights Watch promotes respect for human rights. It investigates and exposes human rights violations in almost 100 countries, including all 19 in the Middle East and North Africa and has worked in Israel for more than 30 years. Human Rights Watch shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It accepts no government funding.

Human Rights Watch challenges violations by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli government. In 2018, Human Rights Watch investigated abuses by Israeli forces, documented systematic arbitrary arrests and torture of critics and opponents by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and reviewed Palestine’s record on women’s rights.

“Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Venezuela are among the handful of countries that have blocked access for Human Rights Watch,” Roth said. “Does Israel really want to join that club?”