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Israel might be about to deport an American human rights advocate. He’s the local director of Human Rights Watch, and he’s accused of advocating for a boycott of Israel. A lower court already has ruled in favor of expelling him. He’s appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, which will hear the case tomorrow. NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Human Rights Watch investigates human rights abuses around the world. It’s worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories for nearly 30 years. But recently, a right-wing Israeli group petitioned to kick out the group’s local director Omar Shakir. He’s an American on an Israeli visa to work here. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin, the group that made the petition, said the researcher has advocated a boycott of Israel, even as a college activist.
NITSANA DARSHAN-LEITNER: Later on, when he came to Israel and he became the head of Human Rights Watch in Israel, he did not halt this activity – the opposite.
ESTRIN: Last year, while Shakir was the local director of Human Rights Watch, the group called on Airbnb and Booking.com to stop listing rentals in West Bank settlements.
DARSHAN-LEITNER: Whoever calls to boycott Israel, whoever boycotts Israel is an enemy of the state of Israel. They should not have any privilege to come here.
ESTRIN: There’s a global campaign to boycott Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, which Israel sees as an attempt to delegitimize its right to exist. A 2017 law bans the entry of foreigners promoting a boycott of the country or its West Bank settlements. Israel says so far, it’s used the law to block 16 people from entry, including Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Tlaib rejected Israel’s conditions for a limited visit to see her family in the West Bank.
Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch told NPR his group is only drawing attention to human rights.
OMAR SHAKIR: Human Rights Watch has never called for a boycott of Israel. What we’ve done as part of our global work on business and human rights is call on companies not to facilitate abuses by operating in settlements. We’ve done similar work when it comes to the cotton industry in Uzbekistan, when it comes to diamonds in sub-Saharan Africa.
ESTRIN: But an Israeli court said Shakir advocated a boycott and ruled he should be deported. Now he’s appealing to Israel’s Supreme Court. Shakir’s lawyers say if he loses his appeal, he’ll be the first person deported from Israel under the 2017 boycott law.
Human Rights Watch’s executive director is Kenneth Roth.
KENNETH ROTH: The Israeli government may not like that Human Rights Watch advocates around the illegality of its central enterprise, but that’s a completely legitimate position. And so for the government to retaliate by deporting a researcher attempting to do that is really to try to censor what is a mainstream human rights position.
ESTRIN: How the case turns out could set a precedent in the battle between Israel and those criticizing its activity in the occupied West Bank.
Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.