In its February 20, 2017 letter denying a work permit for Omar Shakir, Israel’s Interior Ministry cited an opinion received from the Foreign Ministry that Human Rights Watch’s “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’”
“This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values,” said Iain Levine, deputy executive director of program at Human Rights Watch.
“It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”
Human Rights Watch said the decision was “particularly surprising” given that the organization regularly meets and corresponds with Israeli government officials, including representatives of the military, the police, and the Foreign Ministry.
The group highlighted that last year, Israel’s Foreign Ministry asked Human Rights Watch to intervene in a case involving Israeli victims of human rights abuses.
“The decision marks an ominous turn after nearly three decades during which Human Rights Watch staff have had regular access without impediments to Israel and the West Bank. Israel, though, has refused Human Rights Watch access to Gaza since 2010, except for one visit in 2016,” the statement said.
Human Rights Watch went on to slam the Israeli government’s “increasing pressure on human rights defenders operating in Israel and Palestine,” citing the “NGO bill” that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed in July 2016 which compels organizations to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from public foreign entities.
Human Rights Watch slammed the bill, saying it imposes “onerous reporting requirements” that “burden advocacy,” highlighting that as a result of the bill, “Palestinian rights defenders have received anonymous death threats and have been subject to travel restrictions, and even arrests and criminal charges.”
The group refuted the claim that it “promotes Palestinian propaganda,” citing its records of challenging violations of human rights and of international humanitarian “by all actors in the region, including the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza.”
“The Israeli government is hardly the only one to disagree with our well-researched findings, but efforts to stifle the messenger signal that it has no appetite for serious scrutiny of its human rights record,” Levine said. “We hope the Israeli authorities will reverse this decision and allow both international and domestic human rights groups to work freely.”
Human Rights Watch added that the group has retained counsel and intends to challenge the decision before an Israeli district court.