Analysis. With its denial of a residence visa for Omar Shakir, a Human Rights Watch director, Tel Aviv casts the right to criticize Israel into question. The Foreign Minister said HRW “is not a true humanitarian organization.”

Israel reveals intolerance of criticism in rebuff to Human Rights Watch

“International and local defenders of human rights and activists who denounce the military occupation are constantly subjected to intimidation by the authorities and the right,” said Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS), on the Interior Ministry decision to deny a visa to the American lawyer Omar Shakir, who was appointed as Human Rights Watch director of the Israel and the Palestinian Territories office. “The latest abuse was the denial of a residence visa to a Human Rights Watch member. However, we will not give up.”

BtS and other human rights NGOs — Amnesty, B’Tselem, Adalah, Yesh Din — expressed their full solidarity with HRW and Shakir and promised that “neither the closure of the borders to human rights associations and activists, nor other measures taken by the Israeli government against the organizations that criticize the occupation, will stop us from documenting the violation of human rights in the territories controlled by Israel.”

The denial of Shakir’s visa is the latest restrictive measure adopted by the Netanyahu government against individuals and organizations that, according to the Israeli Executive Power, maintain a position hostile to the Jewish state, spread “Palestinian propaganda” and support BDS, the international boycott campaign against Israel. Furthermore, a new law also allows officers at the border terminal and Tel Aviv airport to deny entry to activists and foreign BDS supporters. In the past, penalties have been charged against Israeli NGOs that support BDS.

The right to criticize the Israeli authorities for its policies in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem was cast into even more uncertainty when the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nachshon, declared that HRW, active in 90 countries, “is not a true humanitarian organization” and that it “clearly and unequivocally operates against the state of Israel.”

In recent years, Human Rights Watch has only done its job by monitoring and denouncing incidents like it does in other regions of the world, with the same language and formats. It has published critical reports about Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories — and has also denounced violations of human rights by the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank and by the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza.

Even the U.S. State Department could not help but criticize Tel Aviv’s decision to deny Shakir’s visa. The Israeli Foreign Ministry subsequently softened its position by saying that HRW’s foreign representatives can enter the country with a tourist visa.

Israel on Friday launched an attack against the U.N. Council for Human Rights that had criticized the 18-month prison sentence handed down for Elor Azaria. The council considered the sentence “too lenient” for the Israeli soldier who last year in Hebron killed in cold blood a wounded Palestinian assailant who was unable to do any harm.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded on Facebook. “The (council) has proven once more that according to it’s twisted scale, one bullet fired by Azaria at a terrorist is more severe than the millions of bullets that murder innocent people in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen,” he wrote.

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