Omar Shakir Image Credit: Agencies

Occupied Jerusalem: Israel was set to expel the country director of Human Rights Watch on Monday after a lengthy court battle over claims he supports a boycott of the Jewish state.

US citizen Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, denies the claims and accuses the Israeli government of seeking to suppress dissent.

Shakir’s deportation, expected in the afternoon, would be the first from inside the country under Israel’s controversial 2017 law allowing the expulsion of foreigners who support a boycott, according to authorities.

What was the case against Shakir based on?

Shakir, who started in the HRW Israel post in 2017, appealed but Israel’s supreme court backed the government’s decision earlier this month.

The case against Shakir was initially based on statements he had made supporting a boycott before joining HRW.

But the government also highlighted work he did with rights groups, including criticising Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank.

“The Israeli government pretends it is only deporting Omar Shakir and that it is not penalising Human Rights Watch,” its executive director Ken Roth told AFP Sunday.

“But in fact it is deporting him for the core message of Human Rights Watch with respect to the colonies.”

More than 600,000 Israelis live in colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories, communities considered illegal under international law.

How has the international community reacted?

The European Union, United Nations and others have criticised the looming expulsion, with the UN warning of a “shrinking space for human rights defenders to operate” in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

But the United States, Israel’s closest ally, declined to do so, saying Sunday only that it supported freedom of expression.

Why is Israel against BDS?

Israel refused to extend Shakir’s work permit in May 2018 after parliament passed a law mandating the expulsion of foreign supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

BDS activists call for a broad-ranging embargo of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

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Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat because of its effectiveness and has launched a massive campaign to undermine the movement worldwide.

Activists compare it to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.

How has US support for Israel factored in to this decision?

Roth contended that US President Donald Trump’s support for Israel’s fellow right-wing government had emboldened it to crack down on human rights groups.

“It is hard to imagine Omar’s deportation going ahead if the US government hadn’t given a kind of implicit green light,” he told AFP.

What will Shakir do now?

The rights group said Shakir would continue in his position despite being expelled, working from neighbouring Jordan.