The court said it did not find sufficient evidence to overturn a lower court’s ruling that upheld a government decision not to renew Omar Shakir’s work visa.
The initial order was for him to leave the country because his advocacy against Israel’s settlements in the West Bank amounted to support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. An Israeli law from 2017 bars entry to those who publicly support a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.
Shakir’s case has been followed closely internationally as a litmus test for how Israel would enforce the controversial legislation.
Human Rights Watch says neither it nor Shakir has called for an outright boycott of Israel and says that Shakir, who is a U.S. citizen, is being targeted for the rights group’s opposition to Israel’s West Bank settlements and its calls for companies to stop working with the settlements.
In an initial response, Shakir tweeted that if the government insisted upon his deportation, he would have to leave within 20 days and Israel “would join the ranks” of Iran, North Korea and Egypt in blocking access of Human Rights Watch officials.
Israel has adopted a tough stance in recent years toward the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which it says is aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s existence and wiping it off the map.
The BDS movement presents itself as a non-violent campaign for Palestinian rights and says it does not endorse a specific solution to the conflict.
Maurice Hirsch, a lawyer for the NGO Monitor group that joined the case against Shakir, said it had presented evidence going back to 2010 of Shakir publicly supporting BDS. Shakir took up his position with Human Rights Watch in 2016.
Hirsch said the ruling requiring Shakir to leave Israel was “an important expression of Israeli democracy.”
“The court confirms that, while in Israel, Shakir spent his time unjustifiably vilifying Israel and promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities,” he said. “Despite his claims, Shakir’s work had very little, if anything, to do with protecting human rights.”
The president of Shurat HaDin, attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner also praised the court decision.
"The Supreme Court took for granted that there is no right of entry into the country, and certainly no right to work, nor even the right to petition the Supreme Court at all, for those who work towards harming the State of Israel and striving for its destruction," she said.
"Shakir is the one who pushed Airbnb to delist the Jewish homes in the territories and even took pride in having the hosting platform comply with his diktats.”
The decision also drew some criticism, with Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard calling it "a bad day" for Israel.
"Israel has today joined nations such as Syria, Iran and North Korea that have already expelled HRW representatives in order to silence criticism of the human rights violations taking place in the (Palestinian) territories," Sfard wrote on Twitter.
Tuesday’s decision had been delayed for months as Shakir and his backers made their case against his deportation. The court allowed him to stay in Israel for the duration of the proceedings.