The Director of Human Rights Watch in Israel Is Being Deported

Ilan Ben Zion, Time Magazine, April 17, 2019

(JERUSALEM) — An Israeli court on Tuesday upheld a deportation order against Human Rights Watch’s local director and gave him two weeks to leave the country.

The Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal by Omar Shakir to remain in the country, saying that his activities against Israel’s West Bank settlements amount to a boycott of the country.

Israel enacted a law in 2017 barring entry to any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” Tuesday’s ruling was the first time the law was applied to someone already residing in the country.

Shakir, a U.S. citizen, has worked as the New York-based group’s Israel and Palestine director since October 2016.

Israel’s interior minister ordered Shakir’s deportation in May 2018, calling him a “boycott activist.”

The court said that Shakir “continues his actions publicly to advance a boycott against Israel, but it’s not on the stages at conferences or in university panels, rather through disseminating his calls to advance boycott primarily through his Twitter account and by other means.”

It cited Shakir’s support on Twitter for AirBnb’s decision to remove postings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank as an example. AirBnb later backtracked on that decision.

Human Rights Watch said neither the organization nor Shakir promotes Israel boycotts, but has called for companies to cease operations in West Bank settlements because they “inherently benefit from and contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians seek these territories for a future state. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.

The court upheld the law applying to boycotts of “areas under (Israel’s) control,” namely the West Bank, not just of Israel proper.

Human Rights Watch said the court’s ruling “threatens the ability of all Human Rights Watch staff members to access both Israel and the West Bank.”

“The decision sends the chilling message that those who criticize the involvement of businesses in serious abuses in Israeli settlements risk being barred from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

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I co-founded the BDS movement. Why was I denied entry to the US?

With this denial of entry, Israel appears to have once again enlisted the Trump administration to do its bidding


“Palestinians are now helplessly anticipating a far-right Israeli tsunami that will wipe out whatever rights we have left.” (Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP)

Omar Barghouti, The Guardian, 16 Apr 2019

Last Wednesday, as I was preparing to depart for the United States for a series of speaking engagements, I was abruptly stopped and prevented from boarding my flight at Ben Gurion airport. The US consulate informed the airline staff that US immigration has banned me from entering the country, despite having a valid visa, without providing a reason.

Given my regular, unhindered travel to the US for years, this ban seems to be an ideologically and politically motivated measure that fits in with Israel’s escalating repression against human rights defenders. Israel’s far-right regime is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, it is increasingly outsourcing its anti-democratic tactics to the US.

As a co-founder of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, I have been smeared by the Israeli government and banned from travel repeatedly, including in 2018 when I was prevented from going to Jordan to accompany my late mother during cancer surgery. Israel’s intelligence minister threatened me with “targeted civil elimination”, drawing condemnation from Amnesty International. Their de facto and “arbitrary travel ban” against me was recently lifted for three months after Amnesty International’s pressure.

On this US trip, I was scheduled to meet with policymakers and journalists and to address the critical need for cutting US complicity in Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights before audiences at New York University, Harvard, a black community bookstore in Philadelphia and the Tzedek Chicago synagogue. Afterwards, I was going to attend my daughter’s wedding in Houston.

I have decided not to miss any of my speaking engagements, joining via video in the middle of my nights, but I cannot possibly compensate the personal loss of missing my daughter’s wedding. I am hurt, but I am far from deterred.

Since Trump took office, he has repeatedly signaled his deep bias in favor of Israel. His Middle East team, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, with their fervent support for Israel’s illegal settlements and other crimes, must be the most dishonest broker in the history of US “peacemaking”. He has recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights in violation of international law and more than seven decades of official US policy.

Meanwhile, members of Congress and politicians in 27 states have passed laws intended to suppress the voices of Americans who support BDS. The ACLU has condemned these repressive measures as an unconstitutional violation of free speech that is “reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths”.

All of this has emboldened Israel’s hardline rightwing government to accelerate its racist, oppressive policies towards the Palestinian people. Over the last year, Israeli soldiers have massacred hundreds and injured thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters demanding refugee rights and freedom from the open-air prison that Israel has turned Gaza into.

Last summer, Israel’s parliament passed the so-called “Jewish nation-state” law, which constitutionally enshrines an apartheid reality that has existed for many years. And Israel’s government has buried the so-called two-state solution by continuing its relentless theft of Palestinian land for illegal settlements, while at the same time increasing pressure on human rights defenders, particularly BDS advocates.

During the recent election campaign, Netanyahu promised to begin annexing the West Bank and repeatedly incited against Palestinian citizens of Israel, declaring, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens … Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.” He will now likely form a government even more extreme and intransigent than the last, which was the most racist in Israel’s history.

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How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism Is Fracturing American Politics

The growing prominence of the B.D.S. movement — and the backlash to it — is widening fault lines from college campuses to Capitol Hill.

Nathan Thrall, New York Times, March 28, 2019

On June 9, 2016, the committee tasked with drafting the new Democratic Party platform held its second day of hearings at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, in the upscale Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington. The platform, which is rewritten every presidential-election year, is meant to express a consensus among Democrats on the major issues of the day. The afternoon session, on “America’s role in the world,” included discussions of platform language on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At stake was whether Democrats would reaffirm the party’s strongly pro-Israel position or make some concessions to the Palestinians.

Days before the hearing, The Associated Press declared that Hillary Clinton had crossed the threshold of delegates and superdelegates needed to secure the nomination. But Bernie Sanders had not yet conceded. And the Democratic National Committee, which normally chooses the platform-drafting committee, decided in May to allow the two leading candidates to select most of the committee’s 15 members: Sanders was allowed to pick five; Clinton, six; the D.N.C., the remaining four.

The group met in the hotel’s Palladian Ballroom, whose walls are covered in murals depicting Thomas Jefferson’s slave plantation, Monticello. The representatives chosen by Sanders who spoke during the Israel-Palestine hearing were all minorities, including James Zogby, the head of the Arab American Institute and a former senior official on Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns; the Native American activist Deborah Parker; and Cornel West, the African-American professor and author then teaching at Union Theological Seminary. The representatives selected by Clinton and the D.N.C. who spoke on the issue were all Jewish and included the retired congressman Howard Berman, who is now a lobbyist; Wendy Sherman, a former under secretary of state for political affairs; and Bonnie Schaefer, a Florida philanthropist and Democratic donor, who had made contributions to Clinton.

Sanders and Clinton each assigned one person to deliver expert testimony. Sanders’s expert was Matt Duss, who was then president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and would go on to become Sanders’s foreign-policy adviser. Clinton’s expert, Robert Wexler, a former seven-term congressman from Florida who is Jewish, was introduced as “an outspoken advocate for the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.” Wexler spoke in favor of a two-state solution and argued against including the words “occupation” and “settlements” in the party platform. He also spoke against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement, which seeks to exert economic, moral and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return. “While some proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement may hope that pressuring Israel will lead to peace, the truth is outside forces will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Wexler said. “Particularly when anti-Semitism is rising throughout the world, Democrats must condemn efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

The Sanders appointees had a different view. James Zogby took issue with Wexler’s opposition to mentioning the words “occupation” and “settlements.” In his opening testimony, Wexler called for a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel’s capital would be Jerusalem, long a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making no mention of Palestinian claims to the city, whose eastern and predominantly Palestinian half — including the Old City and the major Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites within it — has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Noting Wexler’s assertion that the platform shouldn’t include positions on which there still needed to be “delicate” negotiations, Zogby asked pointedly: “Should we leave Jerusalem out of the platform? I think that would fit your notion appropriately.”


A mock Israeli checkpoint demonstration at U.C. Berkeley’s Sather Gate in 2016 organized by Students for Justice in Palestine. (Tracy Lam/The Daily Californian)

Wexler appealed to the longstanding U.S.-Israeli relationship: “Whether one agrees with Prime Minister Netanyahu or not, one point he always makes is that Israel is our one ally that never, ever has asked and I can’t imagine would ever ask for an American to do their fighting for them. Israelis fight for themselves.” At this, an audience member called out, “With our money!”

Cornel West, a Sanders appointee, expressed concern that “for too long, the Democratic Party has been beholden to Aipac” — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bipartisan pro-Israel lobbying group — which “didn’t take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters.” He added that the party was now at a “turning point,” which was why he supports the B.D.S. movement, disputing the charge that it’s anti-Semitic. “We’ve got to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish hatred,” he said, adding: “It’s wrong, it’s unjust. But that cannot be the excuse for in any way downplaying the unbelievable misery that we see in Gaza and the West Bank and other places.”

For the Democratic establishment, the conversation seemed to be going off the rails. Wendy Sherman, a Clinton appointee, affirmed the Democratic Party’s commitment to a two-state solution and declared, “Our differences are really with the Republican Party.”

Later that afternoon, Duss, the Sanders team’s expert, said that while “there is no question we should be and will be Israel’s friend in resolving this conflict,” the United States must “recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the most basic political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people run contrary to fundamental American values.” He added that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harmed American interests, citing remarks made at the Aspen Security Forum in 2013 by James Mattis, the former head of U.S. Central Command, who became Trump’s secretary of defense: “I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of Centcom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

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March 27, 2019
Book talk: Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

The Palestine Center
Washington, DC
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm CT
Livestream Online
Videos & Transcripts

with Dr. Sunaina Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California – Davis

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) has expanded rapidly though controversially in the United States in the last five years. The academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions is a key component of this movement. What is this boycott? Why does it make sense? And why is this an American Studies issue? In this short essential book, Sunaina Maira addresses these key questions. Boycott! situates the academic boycott in the broader history of boycotts in the United States as well as in Palestine and shows how it has evolved into a transnational social movement that has spurred profound intellectual and political shifts. It explores the movement’s implications for antiracist, feminist, queer, and academic labor organizing and examines the boycott in the context of debates about Palestine, Zionism, race, rights-based politics, academic freedom, decolonization, and neoliberal capitalism.

Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies and was Co-Director of the Mellon Research Initiative in Comparative Border Studies at UC Davis from 2015-2018. In addition to Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine, she is the author of several books on Muslim, Arab, and South Asian youth culture and activism including Jil Oslo: Palestinian Hip Hop, Youth Culture, and the Youth Movement and The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror. She co-edited Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America, which won the American Book Award, and The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. Her current research is a community-engaged project on sanctuary activism and migrant solidarity movements in the US and Europe. Maira has also been involved with various community organizations and Palestine solidarity campaigns in the Bay Area and nationally.