Human Rights Watch is weighing an appeal to a larger judicial panel of the verdict by three judges. If not appeal is lodged, Shakir could be asked to leave the country within 20-day.

Omar Shakir from Human Rights Watch. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

In a landmark anti-BDS ruling, the High Court of Justice has paved the way for Israel to deport Human Rights Watch’s local director Omar Shakir after it determined that he had supported boycott activity that delegitimized Israel.

Human Rights Watch is weighing an appeal to a larger judicial panel of the verdict by three judges. If no appeal is lodged, Shakir could be asked to leave the country within 20 days.

The ruling is a victory for those who hold that advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement are acting against the state and are not engaged in legitimate criticism of Israel. Opponents view it as part of a movement to suppress human rights advocacy in Israel.

Shakir, who is a US citizen and needs a visa to be in Israel, immediately tweeted that if the High Court decision is upheld, Israel will “join ranks of Iran, N. Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official. We wont stop. And we wont be the last.”

He later told The Jerusalem Post that the ruling was “quite chilling” and swore to contest the ruling during the next 20 days.

“We will fight until the last minute, not just for my ability to stay, but for human rights work [in general]. We are strongly considering requesting a hearing before a larger panel of judges,” Shakir said.

Ultimately, he added, the ball is in the government’s hands, because it has the ability to block his deportation.
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This is a dramatic interpretation “that will have ramifications not only for human rights advocacy and for human rights groups,” but for students who want to study in Israel and others who need to be posted here, including their spouses, he said.

Strategic Affairs Minister and Likud MK Gilad Erdan expressed his satisfaction over the verdict which upheld Israel rights to deny visas to foreigners over boycott activities against Israel.

“I applaud the decision of the Supreme Court that accepted my ministry and the interior minister’s position that a work visa should not be given to a foreign boycott activist who wants to harm Israel and its citizens,” he said in a statement.

“Omar Shakir is a BDS activist who took advantage of his stay in Israel to harm it, something no sane country would allow. Israel sees great importance in the activities of real human rights organizations, granting hundreds of visas every year to human rights activists. HRW is welcome to appoint another representative in Israel in place of Shakir if it chooses to do so,” he added.

Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri had argued to the court that in accordance with the amendment to the 2017 Entry into Israel Law, Shakir’s stay in Israel should not be approved in light of his activities.

Shakir had contested the government’s argument that his past pro-Palestinian statements constituted current backing for anti-Israel boycotts.

In June, the Court froze a deportation order issued by a lower court in April. But on Tuesday it said the deportation could proceed.

“Not only was there [from Shakir] systematic support for BDS which continued after he began his work for the organization [HRW], his conduct surrounding FIFA, as well as his repeated calls for boycotting Israeli assets in the region, is based on a sweeping denial of the legitimacy of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria,” the Court’s ruling read.

“In these circumstances, there is no reason to intervene in the previous ruling. This is a case in which is a boycott was promoted only because of an affinity for the area [Israel] ─ as opposed to its conduct. Therefore, the Minister’s decision does not go beyond the limits of his authority,” it added.

NGO Monitor lawyer Maurice Hirsch, whose organization has backed the ministries in the process, said the verdict was an “important expression of Israeli democracy.”

“The Court confirms that while in Israel, Shakir spent his time unjustifiably vilifying Israel and promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities,” Hirsch said. “Despite his claims, Shakir’s work had very little, if anything, to do with protecting human rights.”

The president of Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, stated after the ruling, “The High Court took for granted that there is no right of entry into the country, and certainly no right to work, nor even the right to petition the High Court at all, for those who work toward harming the State of Israel and striving for its destruction.”

“Shakir is the one who pushed Airbnb to delist the Jewish homes in the territories and even took pride in having the hosting platform comply with his dictates,” Darshan-Leitner said. “Now that the High Court has ruled Omar Shakir is grossly biased, HRW has now lost all its credibility in the Israeli-Arab conflict. They ought shut down their offices here and stay out of this region.”

The left-wing group B’Tselem said in response, “Efforts to hide the occupation and silence criticism against it are bound to fail.”

“The decision reflects perfectly the state of affairs at the highest judicial institution in Israel – not rule of law, but legal propaganda at the service of the occupation,” B’Tselem’s executive director Hagai El-Ad said. “In essence, the HCJ’s ruling grants a legal seal of approval to the further shrinking of the already limited space in Israel to oppose the occupation. For decades, this space is non-existent for Palestinians; now, it will be diminished further for international stakeholders; and soon, also for Israelis.”