Human Rights Watch's Shakir defiant as Israel deports him: I'll be back

Omar Shakir’s deportation marks the end of one of the most controversial fights ever between Israel and one of its human rights critics.

Human Rights Watch Israel-Palestine Director Omar Shakir speaks in Israel before being deported on Monday, November 25, 2019 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Human Rights Watch Israel-Palestine Director Omar Shakir speaks in Israel before being deported on Monday, November 25, 2019
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
In his final public appearance in Israel before being deported later on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Israel-Palestine director Omar Shakir was defiant, saying that “I’ll be back when the day comes that we have succeeded in dismantling the system of discrimination impacting Israelis and Palestinians.”

Shakir’s deportation marks the end of one of the most controversial fights ever between Israel and one of its human rights critics.

While the UN, EU and others condemned Israel’s deportation of Shakir as an attempt to quash criticism of human rights violations, the majority of Israeli politicians, including centrists like Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid, have supported it as combating the global movement to boycott Israel.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson responded to the deportation, saying, “We regret the decision taken by the Israeli authorities to deport him. The secretary-general supports the important work by human rights defenders around the world, and that work should be allowed to continue.”
Likewise, PLO Department of Public Diplomacy official Hanan Ashrawi said that, “With the deportation… Israel has unequivocally demonstrated the subservience of all official branches of government to the regime of political repression, brute force and racist mentality that maintain the illegal occupation of Palestine.”
The press conference was also attended by HRW’s global chief Kenneth Roth, who said that “Omar will keep working from close by, maybe from Amman. There will be a cost to this, but we monitor human rights problems in Iran, Venezuela… and other countries with ugly governance, and know how to do this… We will keep sending crisis researchers.
“If Israel can decide who our researchers and officials are, then they can hide certain issues,” said Roth, predicting that China would block them from reporting on human rights issues in Shenzhen and that the Saudis and other countries would follow suit.
He added that, “Deporting Omar has backfired. Human Rights Watch is here to stay and will not submit to pressure.”
HRW Middle East region official Eric Goldstein pointed out that the European Court of Justice just recently ruled that settlements are illegal and products from settlements must be labeled indicating their connection to the Israeli settlements.
He said that HRW’s critique is that “mainstream and Israeli government efforts to hide the occupation won’t succeed.”
Shakir himself said that, “We need a reboot” to pressure Israel for carrying out this deportation.
“Today it’s HRW, tomorrow it will be Israeli citizens… or non-Jewish spouses of Israeli citizens,” Shakir said. “We will cover the same issues with the same intensity and resolve as we did all around the world.
“I went through this before and was forced to leave Egypt after covering the harm to Egyptian protesters,” he said, adding that “this needs to ring alarm bells around the world. Who is next?”
The final order to deport Shakir came last week after High Court of Justice President Esther Hayut denied him a stay of the deportation order pending his request for a broader panel of the court to overturn the order.
The order was issued against the Israel-Palestine HRW director on November 5 by a smaller three-justice panel endorsing the government’s decision to deport Shakir.
It was unclear what the significance would be if the High Court later decides to hear Shakir’s appeal before a broader panel, if he has already been deported by early next week. But Hayut left things in limbo by keeping the legal issue open even as she did not extend Shakir’s ability to stay in Israel.
Calling the previous decision “an earthquake” that could undermine human rights in Israel and permanently harm Israel’s foreign relations, HRW lawyer Michael Sfard asked Hayut earlier on Tuesday to grant a rare additional hearing before as many as nine justices.
At the heart of the case is whether foreign human rights officials in Israel can call for boycotts against Israel, what standards to apply to them (much of the evidence against Shakir was from his personal Twitter account) and whether deportation should be used by the government to quash criticism of human rights violations.
Broader hearings are rarely granted, and if the court hears the case after Shakir has been deported, it will undoubtedly be criticized by the Israeli Right. But the request has a decent chance because of the relatively new constitutional issues it implicates. In addition, the original panel included justices Noam Sohlberg, Neal Hendel and Yael Wilner, who are collectively far more conservative then the court as a whole.
At a September hearing on the issue, though Sohlberg’s questions indicated that he was relatively dead-set against HRW and in favor of the government’s deportation order, Hendel and Wilner, considered to be moderately conservatives, appeared to consider the suggestion.
Hendel and Wilner did not accept many of Sfard’s arguments, but they did appear more ready than Sohlberg to engage his legal claims.
Ultimately, however, all three justices decided that Shakir’s calls for Israel boycotts relating to Airbnb, and a Spanish company were too much for them to ignore.
The justices also did not delve into the international implications of deporting Shakir.
On April 16, the Jerusalem District Court endorsed the government’s order to deport him after an approximately year-and-a-half-long legal battle.
Shakir has been fighting government efforts to use a 2017 law to expel him for his alleged support of boycotting Israel.
He has denied the charge, saying that he criticizes Israel in an attempt to improve its human rights record, just as the HRW criticizes other countries.
Besides the government and HRW, NGO Monitor, Shurat Hadin, Amnesty International and a number of diplomats have weighed in on both sides of the case.
At earlier points in the case, Sfard had tried to focus on either the Foreign Ministry opposing deporting Shakir, or on the High Court’s ruling canceling a deportation order against student-activist Lara Alqasem relating to alleged BDS activity.
In a poignant moment at the September hearing, which showed the divide between Sfard and Shakir on one side and the justices on another, Wilner lectured Sfard that he kept making side arguments without addressing the black-and-white language of the law authorizing the state to deport BDS activists.
Sfard responded that he had addressed the law head-on with many arguments, but that it seemed that Wilner did not accept any of them.