In its February 20, 2017 letter denying a work permit for Omar Shakir, the Interior Ministry cited an opinion received from the Foreign Ministry that Human Rights Watch's "public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of 'human rights.'" The denial comes as the authorities seek to limit the space for local and worldwide human rights groups to operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The group received a letter from Israel's Interior Ministry denying the work permit "on the grounds that we were not a real human rights organization", said Shakir, a California native of Iraqi descent with a master's degree from Georgetown and a law degree from Stanford.
Nahshon also said that HRW was not banned and its Israeli and Palestinian employees would still be permitted to work in Israel and issue reports.
The move was reportedly the latest attempt by Israel to block worldwide monitor organizations from entering the country and was criticized Friday in an online statement by Human Rights Watch's program deputy executive director, Iain Levine.
The news emerged as Israel faced criticism from the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva over the 18-month jail sentence handed to an Israeli soldier who shot an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head.
Iain Levine - deputy executive director of program at HRW - criticized the Israeli move, saying in a statement, "This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel's commitment to basic democratic values".
"While the Israeli government is hardly the only one to disagree with our well-researched findings", concluded Levine, "its efforts to stifle the messenger signal that it has no appetite for serious scrutiny of its human rights record".
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The criticism and accusations against such organizations has grown with the support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he presides over one of the most right-wing Israeli governments in history.
Human Rights Watch has operated in Israel for three decades, Shakir said.
HRW, he said, had "demonstrated time and again it is a fundamentally biased and anti-Israeli organisation with a clear hostile agenda".
Human Rights Watch's statement on Israel came the same day as the United Nations blasted the country for not taking a tough enough stance against an Israeli soldier tried and found guilty of executing a Palestinian during a March anti-terror operation in Hebron, also known as Khalil. Furthermore, he suggested other organizations such as Amnesty International could also be subject to visa denials, and applications from similar organizations would be assessed on a case by case basis.
Last year, the parliament passed a controversial bill that places special reporting restrictions on NGOs that receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments. B'Tselem. Coalition of Women for Peace, Emek Shaveh, Gisha, Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Haqel-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders Fund, Machsom Watch, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Yesh Din.
The law did not specifically refer to left-wing organisations, but is applicable to some 25 NGOs. "With this decision, Israel is joining the list". Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela are among the few countries that have blocked access for Human Rights Watch staff members.