Israeli Government Denies Work Visa to Human Rights Watch Worker, Accuses Group of Engaging in ‘Palestinian Propaganda’

Omar Shakir

The Israeli government has denied a work visa to an investigator for Human Rights Watch, a prominent advocacy organization, accusing the group of engaging in “Palestinian propaganda.”

Human Rights Watch, which has worked in Israel for three decades, denied the accusation, calling the visa rejection “part of a pattern” of actions by the right-wing government in the country to hinder the work of rights groups.

“This Israeli government has been narrowing the space for democratic activity and is closing Israel off to those who dare to criticize its activities,” said Sari Bashi, the group’s Israel and Palestine advocacy director.

Human Rights Watch, which shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for being part of an international anti-landmine campaign, works in 90 nations and has official offices in 24 of them. On Feb. 20, the group received a notice that its application for a work visa for its investigator, Omar Shakir, had been turned down because, a letter said, the group had a pro-Palestinian bias.

“Human Rights Watch is systematically biased against Israel,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry. “They are in fact in the service of Palestinian propaganda rather than being in the service of the truth and human rights.”

Mr. Nahshon said that Human Rights Watch would continue to be able to work in Israel. “We will not end our contacts with them,” he said.

Ms. Bashi said that Mr. Shakir, an American citizen, had been unable to get into Israel. The group, she said, relies on foreigners because most Israelis, like her, are not permitted into Palestinian areas, including the enclave of Gaza.

Calling the charge of pro-Palestinian bias “outrageous,” Ms. Bashi pointed to several recent reports criticizing the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Ian Fisher