The Jerusalem District Court approved the deportation of Human Rights Watch’s representative for Israel and the Palestinian areas on Tuesday, in a decision which is bound to reverberate globally.
At a time when the world is debating the openness of Israeli democracy, this extended legal battle started when the Strategic Affairs and Interior ministries sough to deport HRW director Omar Shakir for alleged activities boycotting Israel.
Shakir announced the decision, saying that the court had declared HRW’s “work calling on businesses to stop facilitating abuses in settlements” as constituting a boycott.
He said, “They have given me until May 1 to leave, but we’re appealing to Supreme Court.”
In June, the court heard HRW lawyer Michael Sfard argue that the deportation was obfuscating the fact that the government was not really after “the ‘little satan,’” Shakir, “but the ‘big satan’ Human Rights Watch.”
Pushing back, NGO Monitor, which has backed the ministries in the process, said that HRW and Shakir themselves were playing coy with their support for boycotting Israel by repackaging that message, and that they should just come out and admit their true views.
The decision is not guaranteed to make it past the Supreme Court, which reversed a different district court’s previous order to deport Lara Alqasem for allegedly boycotting Israel activities.
Filed by Michael Sfard on behalf of Shakir, the lawsuit suit sought to block his deportation. HRW contends that the government went beyond the law by ordering the deportation of someone already in the country with valid status.
The ministry’s implementation criteria allow authorities to target people whose support for boycotts is “continuous” and “active.”
However, HRW contended in its suit that the ministry has acknowledged having “no information” about calls for boycotts by HRW or Shakir while serving as its representative. In its decision to deport Shakir, HRW said that the interior ministry cited only statements made by Shakir before he joined HRW.
Currently, Sfard said that Shakir and HRW warn businesses about investments in the West Bank which might violate international law, but do not call for a blanket boycott of Israel.
In contrast, in June, the government and NGO Monitor provided more recent examples of statements and activities which they said showed that Shakir continued to support BDS.
This included what it said was an attempt by Shakir to attend a 2017 FIFA meeting in Bahrain as part of a HRW effort to sanction Israel’s soccer program.
Sfard responded by asking what would be the future of Israeli democracy when the government started following human rights critics to that extent, including on social media.
HRW had previously indicated that though it does not have a copy of the Foreign Ministry’s full opinion, it has information indicating that the ministry recommended permitting Shakir to stay in the country.
Despite that recommendation, the Strategic Affairs and Interior Ministry are dictating policy on the issue and still seeking Shakir’s deportation.
A government lawyer told the court that approving Shakir’s entry was an error that the state had a right to correct, and that initial approval did not block ministers from later canceling that approval.
The same Jerusalem District Court for Wednesday’s hearing has issued multiple prior orders. On May 23 of last year, it issued an interim order blocking the deportation until the issue could be argued comprehensively on Wednesday.
Earlier in May, the same court had denied Shakir’s request to block the deportation order.
However, following an appeal by Shakir to the Supreme Court, which ordered the district court to consider legal issues that it had not reviewed, including potential arguments about the foreign ministry’s position and the full history of the state’s handling of Shakir, the court reversed itself.
The Interior Ministry has previously said that Deri had acted on the recommendation of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which said it had gathered data that shows Shakir “is an active and consistent supporter of boycotting Israel.”
Shakir, a lawyer and a US citizen, had denied the allegation, contending that neither he nor HRW promote boycotting Israel.
Israel last year initially denied Shakir a work permit, in a move criticized by the United States. Jerusalem later granted him a one-year work visa, a point which Sfard honed in on as if to say that once Israel dropped its formal fight against HRW, it should not pick on Shakir.
HRW frequently issues reports critical of Israeli policies related to the West Bank and Gaza, including those that pertain to settlements.
In a report published in January 2016, the organization called on businesses to cease all activities that benefit settlements.