The Israeli occuaption authorities denied Human Rights Watch’s application for a work permit for its Israel and Palestine director on the grounds that it is not a real human rights group, the organization said Friday.
In its February 20, 2017 letter denying a work permit for Omar Shakir, the 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.’”
According to HRW, the denial comes as the occupation authorities seek to limit the space for local and international human rights groups to operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values,” said Iain Levine, deputy executive director for program at HRW. “It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”
HRW 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. Last year, the Foreign Ministry asked HRW 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.
Israel’s denial of a work permit to Human Rights Watch comes amid increasing pressure on human rights defenders operating in Israel and Palestine, added HRW.
“A law passed by the Knesset in July 2016 targets human right groups, imposing onerous reporting requirements that burden their advocacy. Israeli officials have directly accused Israeli advocacy groups of “slander” and discrediting the state or army. Palestinian rights defenders have received anonymous death threats and have been subject to travel restrictions, and even arrests and criminal charges,” it added.
“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 is an independent, international, nongovernmental organization that promotes respect for human rights and international law. It monitors rights violations in more than 90 countries across the world.