Today, Israel’s Supreme Court hears the case of Omar Shakir, an American citizen who serves as the “Israel/Palestine director” for Human Rights Watch (HRW), a fanatical anti-Israel organization. The Israeli government wishes to deny Shakir’s request to renew his work visa on the basis of a law that forbids granting visas to those who promote boycotts of the Jewish state, and further claims that Shakir violated the terms of his expiring visa by doing so. To Gerald Steinberg, the case generates the difficulties Jerusalem has had at parrying the lawfare campaigns of HRW and similar groups:
Politically, this case is about HRW and the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS), and whether, after numerous defeats, the Israeli government has a viable counterstrategy. Had the various officials and ministries involved had a coherent strategy in place in 2016, Shakir would never have received a work visa in the first place, and the court sessions, media focus, and accompanying human-rights theater would have been avoided.
Shakir and HRW’s leaders have already waged a very successful campaign in the international media [around his visa application]. They project an invented image of a politically neutral organization promoting the moral principles of human rights, and overcoming intense opposition by the “far-right” Israeli government. Shakir has published opinion pieces in the mainstream media, including the Washington Post, in addition to numerous interviews in the New York Times [and elsewhere].
For [HRW], the case is a win-win: if the judges overrule the lower court, this will be presented as a great victory for HRW over the hated and “anti-democratic Israeli government.” And if Shakir loses and is deported, HRW will declare a great victory in showing the world how “Israel oppresses brave human-rights defenders.” Therefore, in the confrontation between HRW, as an NGO superpower working under a façade of human rights, and Israel, which seeks to counter and defeat multiple campaigns of demonization and delegitimization, this case should be recognized as a policy failure. Instead, a broader and more strategic approach is necessary, though it may be beyond the government’s capability.