(Jerusalem, July 24, 2019) – Israel’s Supreme Court delayed a July 25, 2019 hearing on whether the Israeli government can deport a Human Rights Watch employee for speaking out on unlawful settlements, Human Rights Watch said today. In a rare move made less than 24 hours ahead of the hearing, the court delayed the case against Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, until September so that the government can address filings in support of Human Rights Watch’s position.
“This delay gives the Israeli government a chance to consider that the world regards its effort to deport Human Rights Watch’s researcher as an attempt to shut down human rights advocacy,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, who was in Jerusalem to attend the hearing. “The outpouring of support for us comes because this is an attack on the broader human rights movement. If the government can deport Human Rights Watch, who will it throw out next time?”
Former Israeli officials and human rights groups filed motions to join the appeal. Amnesty International cited potential ramificationsfor rights groups, and a group of senior Israeli diplomats, including the former Israeli Foreign Ministry general director and ex-ambassadors to France and South Africa, expressed concern that the deportation will hurt Israel’s image. Many others have criticized the deportation order, including 27 European states in a joint statement, 17 members of the US Congress, the UN secretary general, three UN human rights special rapporteurs, and numerous independent groups and academic associations.
The case offers the court an opportunity to weigh in on the government’s crackdown on human rights activism in Israel. Recently the Interior Ministry has denied entry to several international rights advocates, accused Israeli groups of “slander” and imposed burdensome financial reporting requirements, and harassed and arrestedPalestinian rights defenders.
On May 7, 2018, the government moved to revoke the work visa that it had granted to Shakir a year earlier, invoking a 2017 amendment to the Law of Entry that instructs it to deny entry to persons who advocate for boycotts of Israel. This is the first time the government has used it to try to deport someone lawfully in the country.
Neither Human Rights Watch nor Shakir as its representative has ever called for a boycott of Israel, as the Israeli government itself has acknowledged. As part of its global campaign to ensure businesses uphold their human rights responsibilities and do not contribute to abuses, Human Rights Watch calls on companies to stop working in or with settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. It has not called for a consumer boycott of those companies.
The Jerusalem District Court upheld the government’s expulsion order on April 16, holding that such advocacy directed at companies constituted pro-boycott activity under the 2017 law. Human Rights Watch appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which granted Shakir an injunction allowing him to remain in Israel while it heard the case.
Human Rights Watch argues that the 2017 law violates constitutionally protected fundamental liberties, including freedom of expression and the prohibition on discrimination based on political or ideological conviction. Individuals have the right to express their views through nonviolent means, including advocating for or against boycotts.
“Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Venezuela are among the handful of countries that have blocked access for Human Rights Watch,” Roth said. “Does Israel really want to join that club?”