(Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities on May 7, 2018, revoked the work permit for Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director, and ordered him to leave Israel within 14 days, Human Rights Watch said today. The government said it was because of Shakir’s alleged support for boycotts of Israel.
Authorities based the decision on a dossier a government ministry compiled on Shakir’s activities spanning over a decade, almost all of them predating his Human Rights Watch employment. The decision comes a year after the Interior Ministry granted Human Rights Watch a permit to employ Shakir as a foreign expert, after initially refusing to issue it.
“This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” said Iain Levine, deputy executive director for program at Human Rights Watch. “Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook.”
Israeli authorities should reverse the decision, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch stands fully behind Shakir and has retained counsel to challenge the decision before an Israeli court.
The May 7 letter notes that the decision “does not constitute a principled or sweeping refusal for the organization to employ a foreign expert,” but rather relates specifically to Shakir. However, a February 2017 Interior Ministry decision to deny a work permit did target the organization, saying that its “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’” The ministry later reversed course, granting Human Rights Watch a permit in March 2017 and issuing Shakir a one-year work visa on April 26, 2017.
Human Rights Watch applied in January 2018 to extend Shakir’s work visa, which was due to expire on March 31. On March 29, the Interior Ministry extended the visa for a month pending a decision on revocation.
Human Rights Watch is an independent, international, nongovernmental organization that promotes respect for human rights and international law. It monitors rights violations in more than 90 counties across the world, including all 19 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Headquartered in New York City, Human Rights Watch has registered offices in 24 countries around the world, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia. Human Rights Watch shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
“This is the first time since Human Rights Watch began monitoring Israel and the Occupied Territories 30 years ago that Israel has ordered one of its staff out of the country,” Levine said. “But it’s only the latest among many recent examples of Israel’s growing intolerance of those who criticize its human rights record.”