It may be debatable if Israel’s recent decision to deny a work permit to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), was prudent. Indeed, the inevitable outcry – amplified by coverage in the New York Times, Ha’aretz and numerous other outlets around the world – quickly produced assurances that Israel’s “Foreign Ministry … intends to reexamine” the matter. Yet, the Foreign Ministry was absolutely right when it accused HRW of promoting “Palestinian propaganda.”
You don’t even have to dig deep – just scroll through Shakir’s recent tweets and you’ll find excellent examples for HRW’s trademark anti-Israel propaganda (which has been documented extensively by NGO Monitor; the site also has a relevant profile of Shakir).
Before we look at some of Shakir’s recent tweets, it is important to realize that he has been an anti-Israel activist for all of his adult life. Given his biography, this is noteworthy, because Shakir has apparently long been exposed to the countless crises all over the Arab world. A biographical note from the Islamic Scholarship Fund, which sponsored him in 2010, tells us that he is “of Iraqi descent” and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area; he “graduated from Stanford University in 2007 with honors in international relations” and spent 2007-2008 as a Fulbright scholar in Syria, where “he conducted research on contemporary Syrian economic reform and studied Islamic jurisprudence;” he also studied “at Oxford University and in Morocco and Cairo.”
Yet, neither Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara nor the repression he must have witnessed in Egypt and Syria seem to have interested Shakir as much as the Palestinian struggle against the Jewish state. Starting in his freshman year, Shakir was already involved in efforts to promote a positive image of the Palestinians. Back then, in May 2004, the Palestinians perhaps needed some PR: the murderous “Al Aqsa Intifada” was still going on – having already claimed more than a thousand Israeli lives, with many thousands more wounded. The exploitation of Palestinian children and teenagers for terrorist attacks was already well known, and reliable polls showed that a shocking 71% of Palestinians “say they have confidence in [Al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden [to do the right thing regarding world affairs].” Incidentally, the Pew surveys at that time were also showing that “[b]y wide margins, most Muslim populations doubt that a way can be found for the state of Israel to exist so that the rights and needs of the Palestinian people are met. Eight-in-ten residents of the Palestinian Authority express this opinion.” To put it in a less convoluted way: most Muslims – including 80% of Palestinians – felt that “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people” require the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
But this was a view Shakir apparently shared, and there is no indication that he changed his mind in the following years. Quite the contrary: in May 2005, Shakir is listed as the organizer of a “Nakba Day” event at Stanford, commemorating what was described as “The Palestinian Catastrophe … the historic day, which saw the mass deportation of a million Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages.” Two years later, in April 2007, an article on “Celebration and protest of Israel” in The Stanford Daily identified Shakir as “president of Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI)” and quoted him as saying: “To be celebrating [Israel’s Independence Day] without even acknowledging what happened is really offensive … Our goal is to be here and to remember the events of May 1948. This is a day 750.000 refugees were created.” Shakir reportedly estimated “the current number of Palestinian refugees at close to five million” and explained his objections to celebrating Israel’s independence further: “While some celebrate the creation of a homeland, we stand here to remember the destruction of the indigenous society and a 59-year subjugation of the indigenous population that resulted from that.”
So for Shakir, it was not about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since 1967; as far as he was concerned, it was Israel’s re-establishment in 1948 that resulted in “the destruction of the indigenous society and a 59-year subjugation of the indigenous population.” In other words, as long as Israel exists as a Jewish state, Shakir considers “the indigenous population” as ‘subjugated.’ It seems that even if you graduate from an elite university like Stanford “with honors in international relations,” you don’t necessarily know that the Jews are as least as indigenous to the area west of the Jordan River as the descendants of the Muslim Arabs who conquered the region.
In 2009, Shakir was busy protesting Israel Independence Day celebrations at Georgetown University, where “protestors held signs with slogans such as, ‘61 Years a Refugee’ and ‘Israeli Independence = 4,000,000 Palestinian Refugees.’” A year later, he marked the “the 62nd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people” in a radio program devoted to comparing “Israeli & South African Apartheid;” alongside other notorious anti-Israel activists, he also participated in an event at UC Irvine for “Israeli Apartheid Week: A Call to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction.” In 2006, the same event had been advertised under the title “Apartheid State of Israel Carries Out Holocaust,” which is just one reason why the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) eventually felt it necessary to document (PDF) that the “University of California, Irvine (UCI) has become a center for anti-Semitic activity in recent years.” As the ADL noted:
“Much of this activity has been organized by the Muslim Student Union (MSU), a vocal student group at UCI, which is responsible for staging large events every spring featuring virulently anti-Semitic speakers. In July 2010, the MSU was suspended for one year because of its involvement in disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in February of that year.”
We also learn from the ADL documentation that Shakir “praised the students” who had disrupted Oren’s speech, emphasizing at the “Israeli Apartheid Week” event he spoke: “it’s an honor to be speaking at the campus that made a statement heard around the world, the campus that officially said: ‘we have no place for a war criminal…’ you guys should be very proud of what you are doing.”
It’s worthwhile reading what the ADL reported on the event Shakir felt so ‘honored’ to participate in:
“As in previous years, Amir Abdul Malik Ali delivered one of the more radical speeches. Titled ‘Death to Apartheid,’ Malik Ali compared Jews to Nazis, expressed support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and called for the destruction of the ‘apartheid state of Israel.’ He also accused supporters of Israel of ‘using’ the Holocaust as an excuse to oppress Palestinians, and claimed that it is easier to criticize Israel because people ‘are no longer being afraid of being called anti-Semitic.’ […]
Hatem Bazian, president of the anti-Israel American Muslims for Palestine, gave a speech titled ‘Roots of the Conflict.’ Bazian portrayed Israel as a foreign colonial power and rejected the legitimacy of Jewish claims in the Middle East. He characterized [the] Jewish presence in the Middle East in Biblical time as ‘occupation,’ which he said was similar to the ‘occupation in the present context.’ […]
Prior to each presentation, an MSU representative read a prepared statement rejecting accusations that the event was anti-Semitic. The statement argued that it is ‘hypocritical and immoral’ to describe ‘anyone who has the courage to stand up and speak out against the genocidal Zionist policies of Israel as anti-Semitic.’ The statement then compared Israel’s policies to ‘the oppression that took place in Nazi Germany.’
The event’s organizers erected a mock version of Israel’s security barrier, which displayed anti-Israel messages and a poster that hailed Hamas as ‘Freedom Fighters’ decorated with a picture of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin.”
Given that Shakir considered it “an honor to be speaking” at such an event, it’s only natural that he continued with his anti-Israel activism in the following years (see e.g. here and here). Just three years after he had the ‘honor’ to participate in the UC Irvine hate-fest – and while he was still involved in anti-Israel activism –, HRW hired Shakir as the “2013-14 Arthur R. and Barbara D. Finberg Fellow at Human Rights Watch;” eventually, when he was appointed HRW “Israel and Palestine Country Director,” Shakir must have been very pleased to have found an employer willing to pay him for doing what he had done as a volunteer for so many years.
It is thus no surprise that Shakir was now only too happy to give an interview to Ali Abunimah’s notorious Electronic Intifada (EI) – a site dedicated to demonizing Israel, mainstreaming antisemitism, and cheering Islamist terror groups like Hamas. EI contributor Charlotte Silver, who wrote about Israel’s “ominous” refusal to grant Shakir a work permit, probably knows him from the good old days ten years ago, when they both protested the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day at Stanford.
While Shakir is surely aware that EI readers are already convinced that Israel is too evil to be allowed to exist, he told Silver that by refusing to issue a work permit for him, “Israel puts itself in the same group as Sudan, Uzbekistan, North Korea and Egypt, all of which have barred Human Rights Watch from entering.” A similar charge is made in an official HRW statement, and Shakir’s Twitter timeline is littered with tweets emphasizing that Israel should now be counted among the “most repressive states we [i.e. HRW] cover.”
I have archived Shakir’s own tweet because the breathtaking arrogance and the implicit disregard for the untold misery inflicted by the world’s “most repressive states” – as well as the deep-seated hostility to Israel – seem worth documenting. All it takes for Israel to be counted among the world’s “most repressive states” is denying a long-time opponent of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in any borders a work permit for a job in which his main task is coming up with “evidence” that will be eagerly seized by his old BDS buddies to further their campaigns of demonizing the world’s only Jewish state as simply too evil to be allowed to exist.
While there are several other revealing tweets (or re-tweets) recently posted by Shakir, one by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, is arguably particularly noteworthy.
Roth’s own openly displayed bias against Israel has been amply documented (e.g. here my own effort in 2014 and a stunning EoZ analysis from the same time). So now Roth objects to Israel’s defense minister (not FM, i.e. foreign minister) emphasizing the threat posed to Israel by Iran during the recent Munich Security Conference. It is downright bizarre that Roth apparently expects that instead, Israel’s defense minister should compete with HRW and talk about “Israel persecuting Palestinians.” While we can only speculate what exactly Roth means by that, I think it’s safe to assume that a lot of the “persecuting” occurs whenever Israel defends itself against Palestinian terror.
But what about Iran? Does Roth disagree with the many respected analysts who think that Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East poses very serious security risks?
As it happens, on the same day Roth complained about Israel’s focus on the threats posed by Iran, the Tehran Times had an article announcing that Iran was about to hold a “conference on Palestinian intifada.” A few days later, the conference duly took place; reportedly, there were reserved seats for the heads of the terrorist groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Let’s just quote for Ken Roth one short passage from the rambling speech given by Iran’s Supreme Leader on the happy occasion of this “Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada”:
“From the beginning, this cancerous tumor [i.e. Israel] has been developing in several phases until it turned into the current disaster. The cure for this tumor should be developed in phases as well. Until today, several intifadas and a constant and continuous resistance have managed to achieve very important phased goals. The Palestinian intifada continues to gallop forward in a thunderous manner so that it can achieve its other goals until the complete liberation of Palestine.”
As far as Ken Roth is concerned, Israel should apparently just shrug off being called a “cancerous tumor” by a regime that massively supports several terror groups – most notably Hezbollah – dedicated to the elimination of the Jewish state.
Last but not least a few words on the media coverage of Israel’s refusal to give Omar Shakir a work permit. If you google “Omar Shakir Human Rights Watch,” you will see that this incident received global media coverage. But most of this coverage amounted to not much more than giving HRW a megaphone to broadcast its outrage as entirely justified. The organization’s longstanding and well-documented record of bias against Israel was largely ignored, and nobody noticed that HRW demanded a work permit for an employee who would “investigate” Israel’s human rights record even though he has a long record of opposing the existence of the world’s only Jewish state in any borders.