Israel's Supreme Court has postponed the deportation of regional Human Rights Watch (HRW) Director Omar Shakir, allowing him to remain in the country while he contests the expulsion order against him.
In the latest chapter in Shakir's ordeal – which has seen him subjected to protracted legal proceedings after Israel's Interior Ministry ordered his deportation – the Supreme Court yesterday ruled that Shakir will be allowed to stay while he continues to fight against the expulsion order.
Though the court did not attach a date to this ruling, it said "the appeal should be heard in the current court year ending July 21," the Times of Israel reported.
The ruling throws a lifeline to Shakir, a US citizen of Iraqi origin who has worked as HRW's Israel and Palestine director since 2016. The affair began in May 2018, when 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".
Under an Israeli law passed in 2017 – dubbed the anti-BDS law – 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.
Israel claims that, while holding his position as HRW director, 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.
Shakir and his legal team, however, have argued that the Interior Ministry has acknowledged having "no information" about calls for boycotts by HRW, or Shakir while serving as its representative. They further argue that the deportation order has cited only statements made by Shakir before he joined the organisation.
In April this year, the Jerusalem District Court upheld Deri's 2018 deportation 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."
The court was seemingly referring to Shakir's tweeting of support for Airbnb's November decision to de-list properties on illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Airbnb reneged on this decision in April, after infamous legal organisation Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against the holiday rental giant.
Shakir's lawyer, Michael Sfard, vowed at the time to appeal the Jerusalem court's decision, taking the appeal up to the Supreme Court. In this Shakir has won the support of a number of onlookers, including a group of 17 US Democrats who in late April wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to intervene and prevent Shakir's deportation.
"To carry out our own human rights work and responsibilities in the US House of Representatives," the letter read, "we rely on the reports of Human Rights Watch for balanced accounts of human rights violations wherever they may occur, including here in the United States."
The letter added that deporting Shakir would "reinforce the impression that Israel is increasingly hostile to human rights defenders and the work of reputable international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights advocacy and research institutions." Netanyahu does not appear to have replied to the letter.
If Shakir is eventually deported, it will represent the first time the 2017 anti-BDS law has been applied to someone already residing in the country, as opposed to someone trying to enter Israel.