Israel has denied a work permit for a Human Rights Watch director, accusing the group of spreading pro-Palestine propaganda, Reuters reported Friday. The news came the same day the U.N. condemned Israel for issuing a "lenient" sentence given to an Israeli soldier found guilty of executing a suspected Palestinian attacker who was wounded.
Human Rights Watch had reportedly applied months ago for Omar Shakir, the organization's Israel and Palestine director and a U.S. citizen of Iraqi descent, to work in Israel and received a letter Monday. In the document, Israel's interior ministry charged the group with "public activities and reports [and being] engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights,'" according to the Guardian.
The move was reportedly the latest attempt by Israel to block international monitor organizations from entering the country and was criticized Friday in an online statement by Human Rights Watch's program deputy executive director, Iain Levine.
“This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values,” Levine said. “It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”
The group maintained that it documented alleged crimes on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict including Israel's internationally condemned construction of settlements on Palestinian territory and extrajudicial executions reportedly carried out by Palestinian authorities loyal to the ruling Hamas party in Gaza. Despite these claims, Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon argued the group had "demonstrated time and again it is a fundamentally biased and anti-Israeli organization with a clear hostile agenda."
Human Rights Watch's statement on Israel came the same day as the U.N. blasted the country for not taking a tough enough stance against an Israeli soldier tried and found guilty of executing a Palestinian during a March anti-terror operation in Hebron, also known as Khalil. Video went viral showing Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shooting an already wounded Abdel Fattah al-Sharif dead as the suspected attacker lay incapacitated on the ground.
U.N. human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani spoke out against the 18-month prison sentence handed to Azaria by a Tel Aviv military court Tuesday.
"We are deeply disturbed at the lenient sentence given by the Tel Aviv Military Court earlier this week to an Israeli soldier convicted of unlawfully killing a wounded Palestinian in an apparent extrajudicial execution of an unarmed man who clearly posed no imminent threat," Shamdasani said Friday in Geneva, according to Al Jazeera.
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother at the start of is sentencing hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv, Feb. 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters
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