Human Rights Watch representative Omar Shakir to leave Israel within two weeks for allegedly supporting a boycott of the country.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights organization, said the decision showed that Israel was seeking to suppress criticism of its human-rights record, adding that it would challenge the decision in court.
In a phone call, Shakir, a lawyer and a US citizen, denied the allegation, contending that neither he nor HRW promote boycotting Israel.
Israel last year initially denied Shakir a work permit, in a move criticized by the United States. The country later granted him a oneyear work visa.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Deri had acted on the recommendation of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which said it had gathered data that shows Shakir “is an active and consistent supporter of boycotting Israel.”
“It is unacceptable that boycott promoters are allowed visas to stay in Israel while at the same time causing harm to the country,” Deri said in a statement. “I will do everything in my ability to prevent such individuals from entering or residing in Israel, and therefore Mr. Shakir has been refused permission to continue to work in the country.”
Senior leaders at HRW criticized authorities for ordering Shakir to leave Israel, accusing them of “muzzling” the rights group.
“This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” HRW deputy executive director Iain Levine said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
Israel has recently cracked down on humanrights groups and activists who support boycotts of Israel and settlements. In March 2017, the Knesset passed a law that bans supporters of boycotting Israel or settlements from entering the country.
HRW frequently issues reports critical of Israeli policies related to the West Bank and Gaza, including those that pertain to settlements.
In a report published in January 2016, the organization called on businesses to cease all activities that benefit settlements.
On Wednesday, 15 Israeli human-rights groups also slammed authorities for ordering Shakir to depart the country.
“Israel’s decision to deport a Human Rights Watch official, and the growing list of people to whom it denies entry for criticizing the occupation, place Israel squarely on a list of disreputable states,” the groups said in a statement. “The governments of such states try to control people’s minds, thoughts and actions, instead of safeguarding people’s freedom of speech and their freedom to act and protest government policies.”
Meanwhile, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of Shurat HaDin, welcomed the move to make Shakir leave Israel. “This is a required step that should have been taken a long time ago,” she said in a statement. She also echoed the authorities’ allegation that Shakir is a supporter of boycotting Israel.