JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel granted an American employee of Human Rights Watch a work visa after previously denying him both a tourist and work visa due to the NGO’s alleged anti-Israel bias.
Omar Shakir, who was named in March as the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, a leading nongovernmental organization, received the one-year work permit on Wednesday when he arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport.
“We hope this decision, an important step in demonstrating the openness of Israeli authorities to criticism, reflects a larger recommitment on their part to allow rights groups to work freely, including in Gaza,” Shakir said in a post on his personal Facebook page, which included a photo of the visa.
Human Rights Watch said it applied to the Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority on July 14, 2016, for a work permit on behalf of Shakir, a U.S. citizen who is a lawyer by training. The Interior Ministry initially denied the work permit for Shakir, but allowed him to enter the country on a tourist visa on March 6 for a 10-day visit.
At the end of March, the Interior Ministry notified Human Rights Watch that it had granted the group permission to employ a foreign expert in Israel, and then accepted the paperwork and payment for Shakir’s work visa.
In explaining its earlier denial, the Israeli government said at the time that the group’s “public actions and reports have focused on politics in service of Palestinian propaganda while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights.’”
Iain Levine, executive deputy director for program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement issued Wednesday: “We welcome this opportunity to work in Israel and Palestine alongside vigorous national human rights organizations. Israeli authorities do not always agree with our findings, but in facilitating the ability of our staff to carry out our research and documentation, they have taken an important step to safeguard the principle of transparency and demonstrate their openness to criticism.”