In May 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Interior chose not to renew Human Rights Watch Israel/Palestine Director Omar Shakir’s work visa. HRW and Shakir have been appealing this decision, leading to a petition to the Jerusalem District Court to reverse the decision. The last hearing in the case was held on March 11, 2019.
An analysis of Shakir’s twitter activity in June 2018-February 2019 tells a different story than his protestations to the Israeli government and the court that he is not a pro-BDS, anti-Israel activist. Shakir tweeted 970 times (including retweets) on issues relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, ranging from boycotting businesses over the 1949 Armistice line, the violence along the Gaza border, and his lawsuit against the Israeli government.
During this period, 18 of Shakir’s tweets condemned alleged Israeli attacks on Palestinians. In contrast, Shakir did not add his own voice in condemnation of terrorist attacks against Israelis terrorist attack, such as the murder of Ari Fuld in September, the murder of two Israelis in the Barkan Industrial Park by a Palestinian terrorist in October, the shooting of a pregnant woman outside Ofra in December resulting in the death of her baby, or the brutal murder of a 19-year-old in Ein Yael forest in Jerusalem.
In remarks made at a February 2019 event in the Netherlands, Shakir revealed that his campaigns targeting companies doing business with Israel, like Airbnb, are part of a “three- to five-year” strategic plan and a “theory of change.”
Of the 970 tweets, 151 (16%) focus on BDS campaigns against Booking.com and TripAdvisor. Of the 151, 145 focus exclusively on Airbnb’s decision to “removing listings [in] Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank.” According to Shakir, “Airbnb was making illegal settlements more viable & acquiescing to policy that bars entry to Palestinians- only place where hosts forced by law to discriminate. Delisting only way to meet human rights responsibilities.” On November 28, Shakir tweeted, “Why Israeli settlements, not elsewhere? They’re uniquely (1) illegal, (2) built on land unlawfully seized, (3) linked to serious rights abuse & (4) bar local community (Palestinians). @airbnb acted to end direct complicity in this & meet its legal duties.”
The tweets followed a November 20 report by Human Rights Watch and Israeli NGO Kerem Navot that was the culmination of a two-year long coordinated and well-financed BDS campaign targeting Airbnb (and Booking.com). NGO Monitor research has documented the numerous false claims regarding the legal and human rights responsibility of Airbnb in allowing Israelis from the West Bank to list their properties, as well as the questionable methodology found in the HRW report.
UN BDS Blacklist
Six tweets were dedicated to supporting the discriminatory UN “blacklist” of businesses operating across the 1949 Armistice line. The database is aimed at economically damaging companies that are owned by Jews or do business with Israel, and is ultimately meant to harm the Jewish State. In July, Shakir tweeted, “Today at Human Rights Council, @hrw called for…supporting UN database of settlement businesses.” On October 8, Shakir retweeted a tweet from Palestinian NGO Al-Haq, “The #UN Database is a tool for: Strengthening implementation of Int’l Law & #UNGPs in conflict areas; Ensuring business transparency & corporate responsibility; Advancing #EU non-recognition policy & reverse settlement expansion.” In March, following the UN delaying the publication of the database, Shakir retweeted Ken Roth, Executive Director of HRW, who wrote “Israel’s expanding settlements underscore why the UN database of businesses facilitating them must be published. Each delay further entrenches corporate involvement in these systematic rights abuses. Yet the UN rights chief delays publication yet again. https://trib.al/iswq9II.”
Riots on the Gaza Border
Since March 30, 2018, Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups have organized violent confrontations along Gaza’s border with Israel under the label of the “March of Return.” Shakir tweeted 18 times (76 retweets) in condemnation of Israel’s right to defend its borders, belittling the violence, and making various politically driven statements. Shakir’s tweets accused Israel of “entrenched discrimination,” “cag[ing]” Palestinians, and of “whitewash[ing]” investigations. Shakir ignored the violent nature of the protests, which have consisted of an organized armed attack on the Israeli border and IDF positions, attempts to destroy and breach the border fence, and sustained arson, rocket, and mortar attacks on Israeli civilian communities. In contrast, Shakir tweeted just three times in response to mass rocket fire by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups that targeted Israeli civilians.1
HRW’s Report on PA and Hamas Torture
In October 2018, Shakir authored a report (and tweeted 12 times, with 78 retweets) on the arrest and torture of Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. While the report appeared to mark a departure from HRW’s record of solely criticizing Israel, the anti-Israel bias of Shakir confirms that the report is simply a fig leaf designed to create the appearance of balance in the group’s advocacy on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The report contains a number of unverifiable claims, reflecting an absence of serious analysis, as well as omitting Hamas’ persecution of alleged “collaborators” with Israel, the PA’s criminalization of selling land to Jews (punishable by death), as well as the torture of LGBTQ detainees and children in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian attacks against Israelis, which blatantly violate local and international, are also not on HRW’s agenda.