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Josh Ruebner

Israel: the country that loves US handouts but hates US criticism

The case against Shakir is based on his alleged support for BDS [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 November, 2019

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Comment: Israel is seeking to prevent US citizens like Shakir from witnessing and documenting its oppression of Palestinians, writes Josh Ruebner.
Earlier this week, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a government ruling to deport Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Israel and Palestine country director.

Barring a highly unlikely volte-face by the Israeli government within the next two weeks, Shakir, a US citizen, will be expelled for a past thought crime not connected to his work: supporting Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to promote Palestinian rights as a college student.

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The court, in essence, held that free expression in Israel does not include basic advocacy for Palestinian rights, and this is a policy that takes different forms between Israeli and Palestinian nationals and those with other citizenships," Shakir told me.

Different sets of rules applying to individuals based on their ethnicity or nationality is the hallmark definition of apartheid. And from Shakir's perspective, Israel's increasing crackdown on advocacy for Palestinian rights has differentiated consequences.

"Israeli advocates face accusations of being traitors or defaming the army and the state. Palestinians face criminal charges and travel bans. And for international advocates the most frequent action taken is denial of entry or deportation," Shakir explained.

"Ultimately the price we [foreign nationals] pay is small compared to the victims of the actual human rights abuses on the ground, particularly Palestinians, which is part of the same policy," he added. 

Israel gladly accepts munificent handouts from US taxpayers. Each year, the United States gives Israel $3.8 billion in weapons. In fact, more US military aid goes to Israel than all other countries of the world combined.

Different sets of rules applying to individuals based on their ethnicity or nationality is the hallmark definition of apartheid

These weapons entrench Israel's prolonged military occupation of Palestinian territory and illegal colonisation of Palestinian land, and enable many of Israel's atrocities against Palestinians, making US taxpayers complicit in Israel's oppressive, separate-and-unequal rule.

It's no wonder then that Israel seeks to prevent US citizens like Shakir from witnessing this oppression and documenting its human rights abuses. Many others are denied entry simply for attempting to act in solidarity with Palestinians. And for Palestinian-Americans, upon whom Israel's cruel denial of entry policy weighs most heavily, their very political act of trying to maintain family and cultural ties with their homeland is threatened.

Allowing for too much criticism from US citizens, or even too much contact with oppressed yet resilient Palestinians, would endanger Israel's massive subsidy. Increasingly, only US citizens willing to express undying fealty are welcome.

It is reasonable to expect the US government to protest vociferously against any country treating its citizens in such contemptible fashion. It is even more so in the US-Israel relationship given the United State's huge subsidisation of Israel and the 1951 signing of a Treaty of Friendship between the two countries.

This document states: "Nationals of either Party, within the territories of the other Party, shall be permitted",
inter alia, "to travel therein freely, and to reside at places of their choice"; "to enjoy liberty of conscience"; and "to gather and to transmit material for dissemination to the public abroad".

By deporting Shakir, Israel is violating to a tee the express treaty provisions to which it committed.

In Shakir's case, the Department of State offered a tepid statement. The Associated Press reported that the US government was following the case, discussed it with Israel, and supported the right of free speech but opposed boycotts of Israel.

17 Democratic representatives were more adamant in their opposition to Shakir's deportation, writing a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noting they were "deeply troubled" by the decision, which "serves only to reinforce the impression that Israel is increasingly hostile to human rights defenders".

Shakir noted that "the US embassy attended every hearing in my case." And while he is grateful for the "good engagement with Foreign Service Officers at the embassy, there is a lot more that can be done at higher levels of the US government to express concern about the implications of this decision on other human rights organisations and, more generally, on the space for criticisms and for human rights advocacy."

"I think the United States has the leverage and ability to push for basic principles of international relations order and transparency, openness to criticisms, and the foundations of international law. The failure to use that leverage reflects US weakness, not strength," Shakir continued.

Don't expect the Trump administration to utilise this leverage, however. Its ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is an ardent proponent and financier for Israel's colonisation of Palestinian land, reportedly directed the State Department to drop its traditional reference to "Occupied Palestinian Territory", and infamously wrote that "Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights."

It would be a mistake, however, to single out the Trump administration for US acquiescence to Israel's discriminatory treatment of its citizens even though it has been most egregious in this regard, by advocating for Israel to deny entry to Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar because of their views.

Increasingly, only US citizens willing to express undying fealty to Israel are welcome

Rather, this pattern is a decades-long, bipartisan problem, as recently documented by American Muslims for Palestine in its policy paper on "Israel's Treatment of US Citizens". This report documents not only Israel's discriminatory denial of entry policies to US citizens on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, and/or political viewpoint; it also catalogues how Israel has repeatedly gravely injured and even killed US citizens with impunity.

It is outrageous that the United States continues to massively bankroll Israeli policies that treat US citizens in such a deplorable way, and that perpetuate Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people.


Josh Ruebner is senior principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 

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