In October 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) hired Omar Shakir to serve as its New York-based “Israel and Palestine Country Director.” Shakir is a consistent supporter of a one-state framework and advocate for BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) tactics, fitting the longstanding HRW practice of hiring anti-Israel activists to serve in key positions relating to Israel:
- Shakir’s overt anti-Israel activism is exemplified by his May 2010 presentation at UC Irvine, “Apartheid IsReal.” In his talk, Shakir called for abandoning the two-state model as a way to eliminate Israel as the Jewish state: “Ehud Olmert is telling us where we need to go….that ‘If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights, then as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished’.” (emphasis added)
- Similarly, in his speech Shakir called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to end its goal of “self-determination,” a euphemism for promoting the replacement of a Jewish State with a binational state. He also rejected the idea of a negotiated solution to the conflict, saying that negotiations “will do nothing but institutionalize injustice.”
- Shakir compared Zionism to “Afrikaner nationalism,” and added that “It’s also an honor to be speaking at the campus that made a statement heard around the world, and the campus that officially said that we have no place here for a war criminal” (an apparent reference to the (illegal) disruption of the February 2010 campus appearance of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, emphasis added).
- Shakir also used the UC Irvine event as a platform for promoting BDS, extolling it as “a way that each of us in this room can exercise their own form of pressure to end that unjust system and to embrace a vision for a better future.”
- Before joining HRW, Shakir was a legal fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization that provides legal assistance and training to BDS activists and has filed “war crimes” lawsuits (“lawfare”) against former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and former Shabak Director Avi Dichter.
- At CCR, Shakir promoted BDS tactics at public events and represented Steven Salaita in his lawsuit against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2014, Salaita was fired by the university for posting a series of Twitter messages, including “Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”
HRW’s History of Biased Officials
Shakir is not the only anti-Israel activist employed by HRW to work on Israel-related issues. Officials such as Sarah Leah Whitson (Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division) and Joe Stork (Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa Division) were visible anti-Israel activists before joining HRW. Former Middle East staff member Nadia Barhoum was also an anti-Israel student activist immediately prior to being hired. Moreover, HRW analyst Marc Garlasco, who was centrally involved in allegations of “war crimes” during the 2009 Gaza conflict, was revealed to be an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia and defended by HRW as a “student of military history.”
Similarly, Amnesty International has been employing several individuals, including Kristyan Benedict, Saleh Hijazi and Edith Garwood, who have either made antisemitic statements publicly, volunteered for NGOs that have promoted antisemitic imagery, and/or have engaged in various forms of anti-Israel activity such as BDS.
HRW’s and Amnesty’s employment of such individuals severely damage the NGOs’ objectivity and credibility, and expose their true political motivations in their work on Israel.