Israeli authorities have rejected a request from Human Rights Watch to grant a work permit to its regional director, accusing the group of engaging in Palestinian “propaganda,” the group said today. The decision was Israel’s latest step against human rights groups and other advocacy organizations that it accuses of bias against the Jewish state. Israel’s Interior Ministry issued its ruling this week, some six months after Human Rights Watch asked for permission for its New York-based Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, to be able to work in the country.
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In a letter dated Monday, the ministry said the group’s reports “have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of “human rights.” The decision, it said, was based on a recommendation from Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called Human Rights Watch a “blatantly hostile anti-Israeli organization whose reports have the sole purpose of harming Israel with no consideration whatsoever for the truth or reality.”
He said “there is no reason” to give a visa to a person or organization that wants to hurt the country. “We are not masochists and there is no reason we should keep doing that,” he said.
He said the decision was connected solely to the group’s activities and had nothing to do with the ethnicity of Shakir, a US citizen of Iraqi descent.
Shakir, a Stanford-educated lawyer, has also done work on human rights in Egypt, Pakistan and at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, according to his biography.
The New York-based group monitors human rights in over 90 countries, including nations throughout the Middle East. It said it has direct access to most of these countries, but said a small number of them, including Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Venezuela, have blocked access to its staff.
“The denial letter came as a shock, given that we have had regular access to Israel and the West Bank for nearly three decades and regularly engage Israeli authorities,” Shakir said in an email. “Branding us as propagandists and fake human rights advocates puts Israel in the company of heavily repressive states like North Korea, Iran and Sudan that have blocked access for Human Rights Watch staff members.”