An Israeli court has upheld a deportation order against regional Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Omar Shakir, citing Israel’s anti-BDS law.
The Jerusalem District Court yesterday rejected Shakir’s appeal against his deportation order, which was issued against him for his alleged support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Under an Israeli law passed in 2017, any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” can be prevented from entering the country or obtaining a residency or work visa. This law has been used against a number of high profile activists since its implementation, including Jewish-American activist Ariel Gold and Spanish activist Ana Sanchez Mera who were detained at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and subsequently deported.
Israel has used this law to wage a two-year campaign against Shakir, a US citizen of Iraqi origin who has worked as HRW’s Israel and Palestine director since 2016. Israel claims that, while holding this position, Shakir sought to travel to Bahrain to promote a boycott of Israel at the 2017 International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) conference. It also argues that he previously attempted to establish an organisation calling for the boycott of Israel while studying at Stanford University in the US.
In May 2018, Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri issued an order to cancel Shakir’s work permit and deport him on the pretext of “his activity against Israel”. The Jerusalem court yesterday upheld Deri’s order, saying Shakir “continues his actions publicly to advance a boycott against Israel, but it’s not on the stages at conferences or in university panels, rather through disseminating his calls to advance a boycott primarily through his Twitter account and by other means”.
According to the Times of Israel, the court “cited Shakir’s support on Twitter for Airbnb’s decision to remove postings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank as an example”. Airbnb vowed to de-list properties on illegal Israeli settlements in November, but earlier this month reneged on its decision after infamous legal organisation Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against the holiday rental giant.
Though Human Rights Watch protested against the court’s decision, saying that it has called only for companies to cease operations in West Bank settlements because they “inherently benefit from and contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court claims the anti-BDS law also applies to boycotts of “areas under [Israel’s] control”.
Yesterday’s ruling was the first time the anti-BDS law was applied to someone already residing in the country, as opposed to someone trying to enter Israel. HRW has vowed to take the issue to Israel’s Supreme Court, with the organisation’s Deputy Program Director, Tom Porteous, saying in a statement that the “Israeli authorities should focus on ending their serious human rights abuses rather than muzzling groups reporting on them”.
Meanwhile Shakir’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, said: “Today’s ruling endangers the activities of all the international human rights organisations in Israel and in the occupied [Palestinian] territories […] the court has toed the line with a regime that seeks to silence criticism even at the cost of infringing on society’s most important liberties. We will of course appeal.”
If unsuccessful, Shakir will be required to leave Israel before 1 May.