Human Rights Watch’ Omar Shakir loses his appeal in Israeli Supreme Court

November 6, 2019

On 5 November 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the appeal against the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to uphold a deportation order against Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, who is accused by the State of supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The Court ruled that Shakir must leave the country in 20 days. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/]

HRW stated “Omar Shakir’s Expulsion Would Send Chilling Message“. The Israeli NGO “Human Rights Defenders Fund” issued the following statment on the case:

The Court dismissed the claim raised by Shakir’s lawyers Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, according to which he did not violate the law that authorizes the exclusion from Israel of those who call for or support boycotting Israel or an area under its control (Amendment no. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law, 2017). The Court also rejected a request to suspend proceedings until a new Israeli government is formed following the September elections and could consider whether to proceed with the deportation.

The constitutional claims raised in the appeal were not directly addressed by the Court, which stated that the constitutionality of Amendment no. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law will be examined in a separate petition currently pending before the High Court of Justice.

The Court further dismissed the claim that Shakir did not call to boycott Israel, but was merely fulfilling HRW’s long-held mandate in calling businesses not to contribute to human rights violations in the OPT. Head of the panel of judges, Justice Neal Hendel, adopted the State’s position and asserted that Shakir’s Tweets throughout the years, including the ones he posted on behalf of HRW regarding corporate responsibility in the OPT, all amount to active and consistent promotion of boycott activity.

One of the more disconcerting aspects of the Court’s decision is the conflation of Shakir’s independent activities prior to joining HRW with actions taken more recently in his capacity as a researcher at HRW, such as HRW reports shared on his social media, as indication that there is “enough evidence to show substantial, coherent and consistent involvement of Shakir in promoting boycott, in violation of the law.” 

The most disturbing component of the ruling is the Court’s holding that the law’s application extends to those who use boycott to promote the protection of human rights in the OPT, in accordance with international law:

“[…] the subjective aim of Amendment no. 28 […] validates that a call to boycott Israel may be included within the meaning of the law, even if its reasoning is founded on the protection of human rights or on the norms of international law. In fact, it seems that the possibility of disguising a call for boycott under a human rights discourse will devoid Amendment no. 28 of its content and harm its objective aim — fighting the boycott movement. These aims demonstrate that [the text of the law] is not only limited to boycott that is based on political opposition to Israel’s control of the territories, but also includes boycott that is based on the identification of the Israeli control in the territories as a violation of international law.”   
Following that statement, the Court held that since Shakir’s activity regarding corporate responsibility in the OPT is based on his entire opposition to the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the OPT, his work constitutes illegal support of boycott in violation of Israeli law.

In addition, the Court stated that HRW is not considered to be a “BDS organization” and reassured that its activity will not be harmed by the decision to deport one of his representatives. Furthermore, the Court dismissed the petitioners’ concerns by stating that the current decision will not affect other human right defenders and organizations who will want to enter Israel.

Nonetheless, HRDF views this ruling as a dangerous precedent that reflects the shrinking space for human rights advocates who defend human rights in the context of the occupation.

Following the decision, Adv. Sfard stated: “Today, Israel has joined countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea, who have also deported Human Rights Watch representatives in attempt to silence criticism against human rights abuses committed in their territory. The Supreme Court’s decision gives Israel a dangerous and anti-democratic veto power over the identity of the representatives of international organizations operating in Israel and in the OPT. Today they deport Omar, and tomorrow they will deport other representatives, foreign journalists and anyone who opposes the government policies in the occupied territories.”

Adv. Schaeffer Omer-Man added: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling not only lends legitimacy to Israel’s attempts to mask its disapproval of Human Rights Watch’s activities condemning settlement activity in the OPT by deporting Omar Shakir, but it threatens to deepen the already pervasive self-censorship by Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders who are more vulnerable than ever to persecution for legitimate advocacy against Israeli violations of international law.”

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth stated: “The Supreme Court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights. If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there is no telling whom it will throw out next.”
 
HRDF stands in solidarity with Omar Shakir and Human Rights Watch. The decision to deport Shakir on grounds of support for boycott is only one measure in the ever-growing efforts of the Israeli authorities in recent years to delegitimize human rights defenders, silence political expression and shut down the work of human rights organizations who report human rights abuses in the OPT.

The law on which the Court’s ruling relies is only one of a long line of legislation passed in recent years designed to delegitimize and sanction human rights defenders and organizations, block their funding, impose obstacles to their work, and create a chilling effect on Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations.

The State’s and the Court’s insistence on separating Shakir’s work from HRW is artificial and its purpose is solely to conceal the harsh and far-reaching ramifications of this decision, which will enable the state to dictate and censor the work of human rights organizations who monitor and report human rights abuses in Israel and in the OPT. The international community must not be affected by this attempt to separate between HRW and its employee, Omar Shakir, as giving in to such tactics would harm the solidarity and support that all human rights defenders deserve.

(contact the HRDF team with any questions you might have: noa@hrdf.org.il)

———-

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/05/israel-supreme-court-greenlights-deporting-human-rights-watch-official

https://mailchi.mp/18f35a27e33d/update-israeli-supreme-court-dismisses-appeal-against-the-deportation-of-human-rights-watch-israel-and-palestine-director-omar-shakir?e=51113b9c0e

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/israel-opt-amnesty-staff-member-faces-punitive-travel-ban-for-human-rights-work/

Israel: deportation of Omar Shakir must be halted and the work of human rights defenders protected

 

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