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Israel expels Human Rights Watch representative accused of supporting boycott

'Deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook', monitor cautions

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 09 May 2018 13:28 BST
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Omar Shakir denies the accusation against him and Human Rights Watch says it will stand by him
Omar Shakir denies the accusation against him and Human Rights Watch says it will stand by him

Israel has ordered the head of the local office of Human Rights Watch to leave within 14 days, accusing him of supporting a boycott against the Jewish state.

The New York-based human rights monitor aid it would stand by Omar Shakir, a US citizen of Iraqi descent.

It accused Israel of trying to suppress criticism of its human rights record and said it would challenge the decision in court.

Mr Shakir has denied the accusation against him.

Palestinian photographer Ahmad Abu Hussein shot by Israeli forces in Gaza

Israel initially denied Mr Shakir a work permit last year, in a move criticised by the US. It later granted him a one-year work visa.

Iain Levine, an HRW official, said Israel’s actions, such as compiling a dossier on Mr Shakir, and “deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook”.

He added: ”This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record.”

The country’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, alleged Mr Shakir is a “boycott activist” and said he “will act to expel people like this from the country” with all means at his disposal.

He said he was acting on the recommendation of Gilad Erdan, the minister for strategic affairs, whose department said it had gathered data showing Mr Shakir had supported a boycott of Israel for years.

“It is inconceivable that a boycott activist can receive a permit to remain in Israel so that he can act in every possible way against the state. I will use all means to expel such people from the country,” Mr Deri’s statement said.

On Twitter, Mr Shakir said he had been ordered out of the country after Israel compiled a seven-page intelligence dossier on him.

“First time in [Human Rights Watch] history Israel orders official out,” he said. “Year ago it denied work permit before reversing, accusing us of ‘propaganda’. Now its BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions].

“Real aim to muzzle dissent.”

Speaking to Reuters, Mr Shakir said: “I have not called for any form of boycott of Israel during my time at Human Rights Watch and the interior ministry acknowledged this in its letter to me ... in which they informed me of their decision to deny an extension to my work visa.”

Earlier this year, Israel published a list of organisations whose activists will be barred from entering the country due to their support for boycott campaigns.

Members of 20 groups which back the movement have been denied entry visas and residency rights under the controversial law.

Last year, Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, became the first British citizen to be refused entry under the law, and Professor Kamel Hawwash, a British-Palestinian citizen, was also forced to fly back to the UK when he attempted to visit relatives in east Jerusalem.

The PSC and its supporters, including War on Want, brought a legal case against the British government in June 2016, concerning guidance which restricted local councils from pursuing BDS against Israel through their pension schemes.

The campaigners argued people had the right to decide not to profit from human rights abuses, and the High Court ruled the government had acted unlawfully by seeking to restrict “ethical” boycotts of Israel.

Israel’s strategic affairs ministry – the remit of which is tackling efforts to “delegitimise” Israel – has been allocated $36m (£27m) to combat the BDS movement.

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