Human Rights Watch (HRW) has launched a legal bid to prevent the Israeli government deporting its country director over claims that he expressed support for a boycott of the Jewish state.
Omar Shakir, a US citizen and graduate of Stanford University in California, had his work permit revoked this month despite denying the allegations.
HRW and Shakir submitted a 145-point, 29-page petition to the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday, accusing Israel of conducting a “witch hunt” aimed at silencing its critics.
Shakir said the legal action will challenge a controversial Israeli law introduced last year to prevent activists who support an international cultural and economic boycott from entering the country.
“This is a draconian law aimed at muzzling any human rights professional whose work opposes the policies of the state of Israel,” Shakir said.
The law sought to punish individuals for expressing political opinions even before applying for a work permit, he added.
HRW is based in the US and has about 400 staff around the world.
In a statement released after the deportation notice was served early this month, the group republished a dossier it said had been compiled against Shakir by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy.
Noting that he is “an American citizen of Iraqi origin,” the dossier said Shakir “has actively and consistently supported strategies calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel since his early days as a student.”
The document recommended Shakir “be stripped of his work visa and denied re-entry into the country.”
On May 7, the Israeli government issued HRW with a notice ordering Shakir to leave within 14 days. However, the petition to the Jerusalem court yesterday claimed the deportation order was part of an “Orwellian scenario” and a “witch hunt.”
“The decision is tainted by grievous bad faith” based on previous attempts to stop HRW working in Israel and the occupied territories, the petition said.