This past week has been an uneasy one for the Israeli Embassy in London. A six-month long, four-part investigation launched by Al Jazeera revealed the alleged interfering ways of the Israeli embassy in the country, causing a massive stir. The investigation aimed to delve into how the embassy has set up youth wings and supposedly ‘independent’ Israel-friendly organisations across the country. The setting up of these groups comes in the face of a growing anti-Israel sentiment around the world.
According to Al Jazeera, the methods employed by the embassy include making political ‘hit lists’ and creating and influencing student organisations throughout the country and targeting anyone who questions them. The aim is to make lobbying for pro-Israel causes in parliament easier, they have said.
Political ‘hit lists’
In a short clip, released by Al Jazeera on January 8 as a teaser to the investigation, Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the embassy in London, claimed that he was a “political appointment” by the Israeli government. Making references to a list, he said that two MPs, deputy foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan and chair of the foreign affairs committee Crispin Blunt, both of whom have been critical of illegal Israeli settlements, should be ‘taken down’. He also claimed that Boris Johnson was an “‘idiot”. In conversation with the then aide to MP Robert Halfon, Maria Strizzolo, the two discussed how scandals could destroy the careers of these two MPs.
In the aftermath of the video, Strizzolo resigned, followed by what seemed like a half-hearted apology, according to The New Arab. The official statement released by the embassy downplayed the position of Masot at the embassy, contradicting his claims of being a special political appointment. Masot’s public accounts on Twitter and Facebook were shut down, after the longer Al Jazeera investigation surfaced on Wednesday, Middle East Eye reported.
— Yiftah Curiel (@yiftahc) January 7, 2017
Influencing the ‘young friends of Israel’
The longer video released by Al Jazeera, the first part of the four-part investigation, alleges that the conversation between Masot and Strizzolo was a part of something larger. Posing as a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) sympathiser, the reporter was given the alias ‘Robin’, who was keen on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which calls for boycotting Israel and Israeli goods, and is becoming prominent in Britain. Frequenting LFI meetings, Robin built a working relationship with Masot which resulted in some stark revelations.
Independent organisations like the ‘Sussex Friends of Israel‘, which organised a march against BDS, are supported by the embassy. Masot is also a member of the Fabian Society, an influential think tank of the Labour Party, even arranging talks with figures like Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs. There have also been other attempts to create ties with the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate of the Labour Party, the video suggests.
Disrupting university politics is also a goal of the Israeli embassy in London, Al Jazeera has said. When Malia Bouattia stood for president of the National Union of Students (NUS), a group that is a staunch supporter of BDS, she was vilified by the opposition, the Union of Jewish Societies (UJS). UJS is funded by the embassy. The video revealed an attempt to influence those within the NUS, but the election still didn’t go their way and Bouattia won.
The New Arab has put these moves in context. According to an article by Ben White published in October 2016, the Israeli embassy helped set up multiple ‘Friends of Israel’ organisations throughout the country, which operate as front-groups for spreading Israeli ‘propaganda’.
According to the International Business Times, the Labour Party has called for an investigation into the functioning of the embassy and the claims that Masot made. Emily Thornberry, the Labour shadow foreign secretary said, “The exposure of the Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing. Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved.” Boris Johnson, however, has rejected any calls of further investigations.
According to the second part of the investigation, released today, the LFI trains people to recruit volunteers from among the ranks of the Labour Party. They also tell volunteers on how to guide conversations around Israeli “propaganda” in conferences. The investigation also talks about the way the embassy funds the Labour Jewish lobby and other independent organisations. The Israeli government provided an amount £1 million to fund trips for activists and politicians supporting the Israeli cause, Al Jazeera said.
Furthering their modus operandi, these organisations look to orchestrate trumped up charges of anti-semitism and racism against anyone who opposes them, Al Jazeera has alleged. Such was the case with Jackie Walker, who was present at one of the training sessions conducted by Mike Katz. After asking a controversial question on the definition of anti-semitism, videos emerged of her online. The sole purpose of the videos was to make her look like she was heckling others in the discussion and being racist in her statements. The footage that emerged online led to her eventual dismissal from the Labour Party.
Al Jazeera still has to release two of the four videos, it remains to be seen what more they will reveal.