Israeli court upholds expulsion of human rights defender

Israeli judge upholds expulsion of Human Rights Watch’s Jerusalem director over advocacy calling on businesses to end complicity in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

An Israeli court on Tuesday upheld a government decision to expel Omar Shakir, the director of the Jerusalem office of Human Rights Watch. The court based its ruling on a 2017 law that bars entry to people who advocate for a boycott of Israel or its settlements in occupied territory.

This comes as the campaign to stop international firms from profiting from Israel’s settlements scored several new successes.

“In a new and dangerous interpretation of the law, the court found that Human Rights Watch research and advocacy calling for businesses to stop facilitating abuses in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank constitutes a call for boycott,” the New York-based organization stated.

The ruling sets a precedent that could hamper the work of other advocacy organizations and jeopardize the status of other rights workers in Israel.”

According to Human Rights Watch, this is the first case in which the Israeli government has relied on the 2017 amendment of its so-called Law of Entry to expel a person who is present in the country lawfully, as far as Israel is concerned.

The court claimed that Shakir has called for boycotts since he was a student activist in the United States more than a decade ago, as well as his subsequent work promoting Human Rights Watch’s research on the activities of businesses, including global tourism companies Airbnb and Booking.com, that participate in and profit from Israel’s theft of Palestinian property.

Human Rights Watch has stated that companies that do business in Israel’s settlements inevitably benefit from and contribute to Israel’s policies “that dispossess, discriminate against, and abuse the human rights” of millions of Palestinians.

Following Tuesday’s court ruling Human Rights Watch reasserted its position that “businesses should halt their activities in illegal West Bank settlements.”

Setbacks for settlements

Businesses that operate in Israeli settlements – all of which are illegal under international law – are coming under increasing global pressure to stop aiding colonization of occupied land.

In what the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) called a “significant victory,” FNV, the largest trade union in the Netherlands with more than one million members, has dropped HP as a partner in discount offers to its members.

“As long as we do not know for certain that HP is not complicit in human rights abuses, we will no longer include them as an offer in FNV membership offers,” the union informed members.

HP – also known as Hewlett-Packard – has long been a focus of activists because HP-branded businesses have supplied the Israeli military with racial profiling technology for its checkpoints restricting the movement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

And this week it emerged that France-based insurance and financial giant AXA quietly divested last year from Israeli arms maker Elbit.

AXA is facing an ongoing campaign to divest from all Israeli companies involved in violations, including Israel’s top banks that finance settlements.

International banking giant HSBC also divested from Elbit last year following a grassroots campaign.

And this week, Palestinians are stepping up their campaign demanding that sportswear company PUMA end its sponsorship of football teams based in Israeli settlements.

No distinction

Human Rights Watch does not explicitly support the broader BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights. But the group notes that in the ruling to expel Shakir, the Israeli judge “held that Israel’s anti-boycott law does not distinguish between boycotts directed at Israel and those directed at only West Bank settlements.”

Israel’s interior ministry and strategic affairs ministry began their effort to expel Shakir last May, ordering him out of the country within 14 days. But the decision was stayed pending court appeals by Human Rights Watch.

The strategic affairs ministry, which leads Israel’s well-funded effort to combat the growing global movement in support of Palestinian rights, compiled a dossier of Shakir’s activities, which it said demonstrates his support for BDS.

Most activities listed in the dossier predate Shakir’s employment with Human Rights Watch and relate to his activism as a student at Stanford University, calling for full and equal rights for Palestinians.

One pretext cited in the dossier for expelling Shakir is that he shared on Twitter an article written by scholar Steven Salaita and published by The Electronic Intifada in 2014:

“Israel’s attempts to deport Omar Shakir are part of its broader efforts to prevent human rights defenders from witnessing and documenting human rights violations, as well as to stifle any opposition to those abuses,” the Center for Constitutional Rights stated Wednesday.

The civil liberties group noted that last year Israel prohibited its executive director Vince Warren and board chair Katherine Franke from entering Israeli-controlled territory on political grounds.

The Gaza-based human rights group Al-Mezan condemned the Israeli court decision as “a serious escalation of the legislative and judicial attacks by Israel against human rights defenders, despite the legitimacy of their work and their use of peaceful means such as research and advocacy to protect rights guaranteed by international conventions.”

The Israeli judge ordered Shakir out of the country by 1 May, but said implementation would be delayed while the legal process continues.

Human Rights Watch is appealing the ruling to Israel’s high court.

Israel’s attempts to silence human rights defenders appear to have the support of the United States government, which earlier this month barred entry to Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, despite the fact that he had a valid visa.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the US government’s “ideological exclusion” of Barghouti “political censorship” and a violation of the First Amendment.

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