Expelled HRW official accuses Israel of trying to silence criticism

Israel accused Human Rights Watch's local director of supporting the campaign to boycott the country

The head of Human Rights Watch in Israel on Wednesday accused the country of seeking to "silence" criticism, after the Jewish state gave him two weeks to leave.

The interior ministry announced Tuesday it had terminated the residency permit of HRW's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, over accusations he supported a boycott of Israel.

It said in a statement it had obtained "information that Shakir has been a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activist for years supporting the boycott of Israel in an active way."

Shakir rejected the allegation he supported a boycott and said Israel was seeking to silence dissent.

"The proffered reason is support for boycott, but the reality is that this is a decision to muzzle Human Rights Watch and to silence criticism of Israel's poor rights record," he told AFP at his office in Ramallah.

Israel, he said, joins a list of countries including "North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Sudan that have blocked access to Human Rights Watch staff."

London-based Amnesty International "strongly condemned" the Israeli decision.

"This is yet another alarming sign of the country's increasing intolerance of critical voices," it said.

"The Israeli authorities must immediately stop their ongoing harassment of human rights defenders."

Israeli officials have clamped down on groups seen as supporting the global BDS campaign, which aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank.

Israel says the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.

In a joint statement, 15 Israeli rights organisations condemned the decision to expel Shakir.

"Israel is trying to keep both its own citizens and the world from seeing what it is doing," said the statement, whose signatories included prominent rights groups B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

"Neither closing the borders to human rights groups and activists nor other Israeli measures against organisations critical of the occupation will deter us."

HRW has written several critical reports about Israeli policies.

Israel's government, seen as the most right-wing in the country's history, has repeatedly criticised rights groups it accuses of having a left-wing agenda.

Shakir, who received permission to work in Israel in April 2017, months after being barred from the country, now has 14 days to leave, the New York-based rights group said.

Israel accused Human Rights Watch's local director of supporting the campaign to boycott the country