This week, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a decision by Israel’s Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, to deport Omar Shakir, the Director of Human Rights Watch, due to claims that Shakir supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As the decision was announced, many Israelis claimed that they were witnessing “democracy dying.” Yet I was unfazed, as were others, as we had been expecting this decision for a long time.
Facing the growing BDS movement, Israel has for years invested heavily in countering it. The Israeli government views BDS as a danger on par with Iran, and labels it a “first-rate strategic threat.” Whether through its own domestic legislation seeking to impose financial sanctions on those calling for BDS, or through its attempts to outlaw BDS in several US States and in Europe, Israel has normalized anti-BDS activities.
To be clear, this is not just about BDS, but also about the role of the Israeli Supreme Court. In law school, we were taught about how brilliantly the Israeli Supreme Court manages to balance Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state with “security,” at a time when Israel abducted 415 Palestinians in the middle of the night, blindfolded them and deported them, without trial, to Lebanon, where they languished in tents for two years. Israel’s Supreme Court approved the deportation, and while countries around the world, including the US, condemned the illegal move, law schools praised the Court for its balance. Israeli Supreme Court justices are often invited to address law schools and are presented with awards – for example, the University of Toronto named a fellowship after former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak. Far from deserving of awards, the Israeli Supreme Court merits rebuke. In the words of Nimer Sultany, the Israeli Supreme Court has approved:
“confiscation of land and colonization (allowing the population of the occupier to settle in the occupied territory); two different systems of law applying to two populations within the same territory (the Palestinians on the one hand and the privileged Israeli settlers on the other hand); a military court system [that is] virtually immune from the [Court’s] intervention; a widespread and long-standing policy of house demolition; extrajudicial executions; a hostile family unification policy; arbitrary manned and unmanned checkpoints and roadblocks preventing ordinary life; the separation wall; detention – including administrative detention – of large numbers of Palestinians and inhumane conditions of incarceration and torture; expulsion and deportation; curfews and closures; and killings with impunity.”
In addition, this Court has approved holding onto the bodies of dead Palestinians as bargaining chips; it has approved the demolition of an entire Palestinian community in the West Bank and their forcible transfer (a war crime); it has authorized the destruction of a Palestinian town in the Naqab inside Israel in order to build a Jewish-only town in its place. Most notoriously, Israel’s Supreme Court has consistently upheld the inhumane blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip and refused to rule on whether settlements are illegal.
The decision regarding Omar Shakir is thus merely another manifestation of Israel’s policies and the Court’s attempts to legitimize those policies. This is not a court that has worked to halt Israel’s oppression of Palestinians nor its occupation of Palestinian land; it is a court that has cast a veneer of legality over the actions of the racist, apartheid State of Israel.
Many have come out against this decision, including human rights groups, the United Nations, and others. Notably silent, however, are array of international governments. Despite the chorus of condemnations, Israel’s Supreme Court decision will soon fade into the background after the Court has “legalized” yet another illegal act. In other words, the expulsion of human rights activists for their political beliefs will soon become as normal as the denial of entry to those who criticize Israel. The decision on Shakir on Shakir is alarming for other activists, including one of the founders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti. Israel has announced that it intends to cancel Barghouti’s permanent residency status. When you treat BDS as a strategic “threat,” anything can be justified, just as Israel’s home demolitions, expulsions, ethnic cleansing, theft of water and shoot to kill policies are all blandly excused under “security” pretexts.
Israel’s actions already extend beyond areas of within its control. Countries around the world, including the United States, have adopted Israeli torture techniques, Israel’s policy of imprisonment without charge or trial, its definitions of “terrorism,” and its shoot-to-kill policies. President Trump often lauds Israel’s Wall, a wall deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and legitimized by the Israeli Supreme Court. Given that Israel is perceived as a “democracy,” it will only be a matter of time before other “democracies” similarly deny human rights workers – and others – the ability to do their jobs or speak their minds simply because their political beliefs have been arbitrarily deemed to be unacceptable.
The Shakir case is not an example of fading democracy, but rather, it is the essence of Israel: a Zionist state that privileges the rights of one people over the rights of another, muzzling freedom of expression when it dares challenge discrimination. This state is armed with a Supreme Court that supports a racist and oppressive system, rather than taking any steps towards ending it.