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, and others were unfazed, as we had been expecting this decision for a long time.
Facing the growing BDS movement, Israel has for years invested heavily in countering BDS, viewing it as a danger on par with Iran and labeling 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, together with a host of well-funded allied groups, 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 about the role of the Israeli Supreme Court. In law school, we were told about how brilliantly the Israeli Supreme Court manages to balance Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state and its “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 2 years. The Israel Supreme Court approved the deportation and while countries around the world, including the US, condemned the illegal move, laws schools praised the Court for its balance. Israeli Supreme Court justices were often invited to address law schools and given awards for their work - for example, the University of Toronto, named a fellowship after former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak. Yet, far from deserving of awards, the Israel Supreme Court is instead deserving of rebuke. In the words of Nimer Sultany, the Israel 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; 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 attempt to legitimate those policies. This is not a court that has worked to halt Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and 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 UN and others. Notably quiet, however, are international governments who have largely remained silent on the decision. 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 normal, just as the denial of entry to those critical of Israel, including US Congressional Representatives, has become normal. This is also 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, for 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 justified under “security” pretexts.
Israel’s actions already extend beyond areas of its control. Countries around the world, including the United States have adopted Israeli torture techniques, Israel’s policy of indefinitely imprisoning Palestinians 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 yet legitimated by the Israel 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 mind simply because their political beliefs have been arbitrarily deemed to be beyond the pale.
This is not fading democracy, it is the essence of Israel: a Zionist state that privileges the rights of one people over those of another and that muzzles freedom of expression where it challenges this rank discrimination, with a Supreme Court that willingly supports this racist and oppressive system, rather than ending it.