PODCAST: Israel wants to deport this human rights defender

On the latest episode of The +972 Podcast, Human Right Watch’s Omar Shakir talks about Israel’s case against him, which he believes is a watershed moment for democracy and free speech in Israel.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch (Courtesy of Omar Shakir).
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch (Courtesy of Omar Shakir).

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For more than a year now, Israel has been trying to deport the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir. The ongoing litigation began in May 2018, when Israel decided to revoke Shakir’s work authorization in Israel, largely based on an intelligence dossier that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs compiled of Shakir’s political activity and statements before joining Human Rights Watch. This was the first time that the Israeli government had used the 2017 amendment to its Law of Entry — which denies entry to those who publicly support a boycott of Israel — to deport someone already legally present in the country. 

“The court’s decision largely focused on Human Rights Watch’s research and advocacy on business in settlements, claiming that that work was actually a call for boycott of Israel,” said Shakir. “This is merely the latest incarnation of an attempt by the Israeli government to muzzle Human Rights Watch.”

What’s the difference between the work you do at HRW and boycott advocacy?

“Human Rights Watch takes no position on boycotts of Israel. This isn’t some special Israel policy, it’s part of how we do work everywhere in the world.”

“What we found, through the course of years of working on Israel and Palestine is that inherently, any business that operates in a settlement invariably benefits from and contributes to serious violations of international law and abuses the rights of Palestinians.”

“Today, the political litmus test to enter Israel seems to be support for boycotts. Could it tomorrow be calling for the International Criminal Court to open an investigation, or even calling for withdrawal of settlements, or saying the West Bank is occupied? Today, these restrictions are being used to block somebody from entering the country. Could it tomorrow be the basis to restrict the activities of Israeli and Palestinian rights defenders?”

Would you say that’s an escalation?

“The government has been quite consistent in its efforts to muzzle those that are critical of its policies. For the court, though, to put its stamp on a campaign of this sort is an escalation, and it threatens to further shrink the limited space that remains available for advocacy around Palestinian rights in particular.”

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