HRW head says no one questions Israel's right to exist as democratic state

Roth added that "Israel can define itself any way it wants. Lots of governments define themselves in nationalist terms."

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July 30, 2019 09:08
2 minute read.
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Nobody has ever questioned Israel's right to exist as a democratic, but not necessarily Jewish, state, said Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet radio on Saturday.

"Nobody's ever questioned the right of Israel to exist," said Roth. "Every state has the right to exist, but every state also has the duty to apply international human rights principles." 
When asked by the Kan interviewer if Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, Roth responded that it had the right to exist as a democracy, but added that "Israel can define itself any way it wants. Lots of governments define themselves in nationalist terms."


The HRW head stressed that there are many Palestinians in Israel who are citizens and deserve full rights. "For me, the emphasis is, is Israel a state that respects the human rights values that every state, every sovereign state, is required to uphold?"


When asked if he thinks Israel treats Arab citizens as second-class citizens, Roth mentioned how Egypt, Iraq, Iran treat minorities differently, but did not answer if Israel itself treats minorities differently.


In April, a Jerusalem District Court approved the deportation of HRW's representative for Israel and the Palestinian areas Omar Shakir due to alleged activities boycotting Israel. 


"I do not support BDS and I do not oppose BDS. We don't take positions on boycotts of Israel and we do not take positions on boycotts of any other country," said Shakir in the Kan Reshet Bet interview on Saturday. Roth defended Shakir as well, saying that he had not supported BDS as a HRW representative and that the decision to deport him was made based on his past as a student.


Omar Shakir, the HRW official, has been fighting government efforts to use a 2017 law to expel him for his alleged support of boycotting Israel for 14 months. Shakir denies the charge, saying that he criticizes Israel in an attempt to improve its human rights record just as the HRW criticizes other countries.


Following a long battle before the Jerusalem District Court in which the government and a range of outside groups, such as NGO Monitor, obtained an order to expel him, Shakir appealed to the High Court. Monitor is neutral on whether he must be expelled, but wants him to “own” his outlook. 


The High Court appeared to side with Shakir by freezing the order to expel him, and pushing off the hearing until November. However, following additional efforts by the state and some of right-wing NGOs, the court was convinced to move up the date by nearly four months to July 25.


Last week, the court again postponed the hearing until September, likely after the election has already taken place. 


Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.


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