Israel denies visa to ‘hostile’ Human Rights Watch official

Jerusalem, Feb 24 (IANS) Israel is refusing to issue visas to the staff of one of the most prominent international human rights NGOs, accusing the group of an “extreme, hostile and anti-Israel agenda”, a media report said on Friday.

Human Rights Watch, which documents human rights abuses around the world, condemned the move as “ominous turn”, and added that it “should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values”, the Guardian reported.

The new policy emerged after Israeli authorities turned down a visa for the NGO’s new Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir, who is a US citizen. The rejection had been advised by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In a letter rejecting Shakir’s visa application, Israel accused the New York-based group of “public activities and reports (and being) engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights’.”

The group denied the claim, pointing out it had written critical reports on human rights violations on both sides, including the arbitrary detention of journalists and activists by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, an extrajudicial execution carried out by Hamas’s military wing, and on executions by Hamas authorities in Gaza, the daily said.

The denial of the visa was confirmed in a letter on February 20 when Israeli authorities informed it the request had been rejected because the NGO is “not a real human rights group”, the group said in a statement.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed the decision.

Human Rights Watch, he said, had “demonstrated time and again it is a fundamentally biased and anti-Israeli organisation with a clear hostile agenda”.

Condemning the move, Iain Levine, Deputy Executive Director of program at Human Rights Watch, said: “This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values.”