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Israel refuses visa for HRW official accused of spreading Palestinian propaganda

  • Published at 05:44 pm February 24th, 2017
Israel refuses visa for HRW official accused of spreading Palestinian propaganda

Israel has denied a visa for a Human Rights Watch researcher while accusing the group of spreading “Palestinian propaganda,” reports the Independent.

A work permit request was filed for Omar Shakir, the group’s director for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in July but the refusal did not come for more than seven months. A letter from Israel’s immigration authority said the application had been declined following a review, because of a recommendation by the country’s foreign ministry.

An English translation of the letter seen by the reporters said it “noted that, for some time now, this organisation’s public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of human rights.”

Shakir, an American citizen, said dismissing HRW’s extensive research “put Israel in a group with the most repressive states” it covers, including North Korea, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba, who have all blocked access.

v Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry, called HRW a “blatantly hostile anti-Israeli organisation whose reports have the sole purpose of harming Israel with no consideration whatsoever for the truth or reality.” Nashon said the decision was connected solely to the group's activities and had nothing to do with the ethnicity of Shakir, who is of Iraqi descent. There were fears the move signalled a wider policy against HRW and other organisations like Amnesty International, who Nashon said would be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Shakir said the letter was a “shock” as HRW staff have been given regular access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories for almost three decades and frequently engage with Israeli authorities, including the military, police and foreign ministry.

HRW condemned claims it was “not a real human rights group”, saying the permit denial was the latest move to constrain the work of local and international human rights groups in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

“This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values,” said Iain Levine, the group’s deputy executive director of programme. “It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”

Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said US authorities did not agree with Israel's assessment. “HRW is a credible human rights organisation and even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do,” he added.

Donald Trump has provoked controversy with his stance towards Israel, vowing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, and appointing a pro-settlement ambassador to Israel.