HRW official to be deported by November 25 after High Court Chief ruling

Official appealed for wider High Court panel to block deportation

OMAR SHAKIR, Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director, looks up before a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in September (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
OMAR SHAKIR, Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director, looks up before a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in September
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Human Rights Watch official Omar Shakir will need to leave Israel by November 25 after High Court President Esther Hayut denied him a stay of a deportation order against him pending his request for a broader panel of the High Court of Justice 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 by early next week he has already been deported. 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.
The November 5 decision by a standard three-justice panel sent shock waves around the world, with praise from the right-wing in Israel and even some centrists like Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid, but led to worldwide condemnation.
At the heart of the case is whether foreign human rights officials in Israel can call for boycotts against Israel, what standard to apply to them (much of the evidence against Shakir was from his personal Twitter account), and questions about deportation being used by the government to quash criticism of human rights violations.
Broader hearings are rarely granted, and if the court hears the case, it will doubtlessly 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 moderate 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.
However, ultimately 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 Shakir after an approximate year-and-a-half 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 opposite 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 that 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 his arguments.