Israeli officials compiled a seven-page dossier on Shakir's pro-Palestine activities, reaching back as far as a decade to his time as a Stanford University student. "The organization co-founded by Shakir was previously named Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel. We note that it is currently a branch of Students for Justice in Palestine," the dossier reads.
Students for Justice in Palestine, founded in 2006, is the main student activist group working on issues relating to Palestine in the United States.
— Omar Shakir (@OmarSShakir) May 8, 2018
"This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel's rights record," cautioned Iain Levine, program director at the nonprofit, in an HRW statement. "Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services' playbook."
The letter to Human Rights Watch from the Administration Service for Employers and Foreign Workers Permit Division — Expert Branch states that "this decision does not constitute a general, blanket refusal to allow the organization to employ a foreign expert, but rather relates specifically to the request to employ Mr. Shakir," and invites the organization to submit an application for a new employee.
However, the organization was denied a work permit in February 2017, accused by the Israeli government of engaging "in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda." That decision was reversed later that year. Human Rights Watch was issued a work permit in March 2017, and Shakir was issued a one-year work visa on April 26, 2017. Shakir was brought back into the spotlight when a private lawsuit was filed in Jerusalem in November 2017 challenging his work permit. That prompted Israel's Interior Ministry to initiate a review of his activities.
"Neither Human Rights Watch nor its representative, Shakir, promotes boycotts of Israel, as Human Rights Watch noted in its reply to the Interior Ministry," a statement from Human Rights Watch reads.
"The fact that no information has surfaced regarding such activities from the time he joined [Human Rights Watch] does not negate Mr. Shakir's activities prior to that time (and that is so even if we disregard the information on FIFA)," the Israeli government's letter says.
Here this Israeli government refers to an episode in May 2017 when Shakir was detained for 18 hours at Manama Airport in Bahrain while trying to travel to "raise the issue of FIFA sponsoring matches in illegal Israeli settlements… to hold meetings with delegates and representatives from FIFA and representatives to FIFA on the issue of settlement clubs," Shakir told RT International.
Human Rights Watch noted in its public statement about the ban that Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, which was founded in 2006, has invested "significant resources to monitoring critics of Israeli policy," and cites the cases of two Center for Constitutional Rights workers who were denied entry to the country April 29.
In March 2017, Israel passed an amendment to its legislation to allow Israelis to sue and seek damages from people who call for boycotts against Israel and its settlements. The amendment allowed the government to refuse entry to any person involved in such activities. In January 2018, 20 organizations, including two run by Jews, CodePink and Jewish Voice for Peace, were completely banned from the country. In April, the mayor of Dublin, Mícheál Mac Donncha, was banned from the country as he was traveling there but he was able to make it into the country nonetheless, due to a clerical error. His ban came just one day after the Dublin City Council motioned to endorse BDS.