An Israeli court has ordered the expulsion of the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, a US-based NGO that advocates for human rights, citing “his actions publicly to advance a boycott against Israel.”
Omar Shakir, a US citizen, has been given two weeks to leave the country, the AP reports.
Shakir’s case is merely the latest example of the Israeli government’s growing crackdown on activists over their advocacy of or connections to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Last week, Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement, was attempting to fly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to the US for a speaking tour when he was informed that his US visa had been revoked for unspecified “immigration reasons” — a move he decried as “ideologically and politically motivated” and the result of Israel’s “escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders.”
US State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino declined to provide details about Barghouti’s case citing confidentiality restrictions, but told reporters at the time that US law does not “authorize the refusal of visas based solely on political statements or views if those statements or views would be lawful in the United States, no matter how distasteful or objectionable some may find those statements or views.”
Israeli law, though, is a different story.
In 2017, the country passed a law banning any foreigner from entering the country if that individual “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” Tuesday’s ruling against Human Rights Watch’s Shakir marks the first time that law has been applied to someone already residing in the country.
The court said Shakir “continues his actions publicly to advance a boycott against Israel ... through disseminating his calls to advance boycott primarily through his Twitter account and by other means.”
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said neither the organization nor Shakir promotes boycotts of Israel, but acknowledged that both have called for companies to cease operations in West Bank settlements because they “inherently benefit from and contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
It added that the court’s ruling “threatens the ability of all Human Rights Watch staff members to access both Israel and the West Bank.”
Concerns about the suppression of pro-Palestinian activists are growing in the US and Israel
These recent events of “banning” two prominent activists because of their activism and beliefs has raised concerns about whether human rights activists who speak out against Israeli policies are having their right to free speech suppressed.
At least 27 states in the US have adopted laws to combat BDS activism, according to Palestine Legal, an independent legal advocacy organization, founded in 2012 and dedicated to supporting the movement for Palestinian rights.
Earlier this year, the US Senate passed a bill that included an anti-BDS provision. Known as Title 4, the provision would give states a legal blessing to punish companies that choose not to do business with Israel or Israeli-owned enterprises, a key demand of the BDS movement.
But while that bill has not yet become law in the US (and will likely face stiff pushback from House Democrats), Israeli law has already gone much further, as Tuesday’s action against Shakir shows.
“Israel portrays itself as the region’s only democracy, but is set to deport a rights defender over his peaceful advocacy,” Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a statement about the Shakir ruling.
“The decision sends the chilling message that those who criticize the involvement of businesses in serious abuses in Israeli settlements risk being barred from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” he continued.
And indeed, that seems to be the point. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose ministry leads anti-boycott efforts, praised the ruling. “Boycott activists need to understand that what was will no longer be,” he said.