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Israel denies Human Rights Watch visa over 'bias'

Israeli authorities have rejected a request from Human Rights Watch (HRW) to grant a work visa to the watchdog's regional director. The state officials accused HRW of being "hostile" and serving Palestinian propaganda.

HRW was informed of the Israeli decision some six months after its representative, Omar Shakir, applied for the visa, the organization said on Friday.

"The denial letter came as a shock, given that we have had regular access to Israel and the West Bank for nearly three decades and regularly engage Israeli authorities," Shakir told the AP news agency.

Shakir is a Stanford-educated lawyer and a US citizen of Iraqi descent, whose mandate as the "Israel and Palestine Country Director" in HRW officially started in October.

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed that Shakir would not be given a work visa. Nahshon also slammed HRW as a "blatantly hostile anti-Israeli organization whose reports have the sole purpose of harming Israel with no consideration whatsoever for the truth or reality."

The activists "have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of 'human rights'," he added.

'We are not masochists'

According to Nahshon, the group itself was not banned in Israel and its local staff would be able to continue their work. However, he said it was pointless to give visas to people who only aimed to "besmirch" Israel.

Israel Omar Shakir Human Rights Watch (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Human Rights Watch)

HRW's Omar Shakir applied to work in Israel six months ago

"We are not masochists and there is no reason we should keep doing that," he said.

The US State Department said it did not agree with Israel's perspective on HRW, which is based in the US and has its headquarters in the Empire State building in New York.

"HRW is a credible human rights organization and even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do," State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said.

'Joining the list' of oppressive regimes

The global watchdog has investigated human rights abuses in many crisis areas worldwide, and published a string of reports that were critical of Israeli policies. Last year, they compiled a report titled "Occupation Inc" on companies contributing to abuses in the West Bank.

Also in 2016, the group slammed both the Palestinian Authority and the militants Hamas, accusing them of arbitrarily detaining journalists and activists. It also alleged Hamas was conducting illegal executions.

However, Israel has repeatedly accused the organization of unfair treatment. On Friday, HRW officials urged the foreign ministry to reconsider its position on granting a visa to Shakir.

"We have little relations with governments in North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Cuba and Venezuela where there is zero appetite for human rights engagement," Shakir said.

"With this decision, Israel is joining the list."

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dj/se (AP, AFP)

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