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Israel Denies a Work Visa to Human Rights Watch Researcher

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government has denied a work visa to an investigator for Human Rights Watch, a prominent advocacy organization, accusing the group of engaging in “Palestinian propaganda.”

Human Rights Watch, which has worked in Israel for three decades, denied the accusation, calling the visa rejection “part of a pattern” of actions by the right-wing government in the country to hinder the work of rights groups.

“This Israeli government has been narrowing the space for democratic activity and is closing Israel off to those who dare to criticize its activities,” said Sari Bashi, the group’s Israel and Palestine advocacy director.

Human Rights Watch, which shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for being part of an international anti-landmine campaign, works in 90 nations and has official offices in 24 of them. On Feb. 20, the group received a notice that its application for a work visa for its investigator, Omar Shakir, had been turned down because, a letter said, the group had a pro-Palestinian bias.

“Human Rights Watch is systematically biased against Israel,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry. “They are in fact in the service of Palestinian propaganda rather than being in the service of the truth and human rights.”

Mr. Nahshon said that Human Rights Watch would continue to be able to work in Israel. “We will not end our contacts with them,” he said.

Ms. Bashi said that Mr. Shakir, an American citizen, had been unable to get into Israel. The group, she said, relies on foreigners because most Israelis, like her, are not permitted into Palestinian areas, including the enclave of Gaza.

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Omar Shakir, an investigator with Human Rights Watch, was denied a visa to work in Israel.

Credit
Human Rights Watch, via Associated Press

Calling the charge of pro-Palestinian bias “outrageous,” Ms. Bashi pointed to several recent reports criticizing the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“If we are engaging in Palestinian propaganda, we are doing a lousy job,” she said. The only other countries that have denied such access, she said, were Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Rights groups have complained that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been increasingly hostile, with groups like B’Tselem and Peace Now, which monitor Israeli settlements and the conditions of Palestinians, coming under particular criticism.

Last year, Israel passed a law imposing reporting requirements on groups that received more than half their funding from abroad. Advocacy groups said that the legislation amounted to intimidation, while supporters of the move said that it was meant to prevent foreign meddling in Israeli affairs.

Also on Friday, the United Nations criticized as too lenient the 18-month prison sentence given on Tuesday to Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting an immobilized Palestinian attacker in the head in March 2016. The soldier had faced a maximum term of 20 years.

Sergeant Azaria is the only member of the Israeli security forces to have been brought to trial on charges of killing a Palestinian, although more than 200 Palestinians have been killed since a surge of violence began in September 2015, according to the office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

“While the prosecution and conviction are very welcome steps towards accountability, the punishment — which is excessively lenient — is difficult to reconcile with the intentional killing of an unarmed and prone individual,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the commissioner, said in a statement.

“It also stands in contrast to the sentences handed down by other Israeli courts for other less serious offenses, notably the sentencing of Palestinian children to more than three years’ imprisonment for throwing stones at cars,” she added. “This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity.”

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