Last week Al Jazeera released an investigative report. The four-part investigation clearly demonstrates how the pro-Israeli lobby functions in the U.K. A ‘senior political officer’ from the Israeli embassy was caught on camera talking about ‘taking down’ pro-Palestinian members of the government. This should have caused a huge political storm. Although there have been waves, the reaction has been surprisingly mild.
While this scandal about how the Israeli Embassy, and thus by implication, the Israeli State, is interfering in British politics has been widely covered by a few British newspapers, in others the lack of reporting is striking. The program focuses on the infiltration of the Labour Party, something that should send alarm bells ringing in papers like the Guardian; yet an online-search reveals that in this publication only four articles have been written about this matter. A search reveals one article from the Financial Times and one from the New York Times, with none appearing in The Times. Perhaps these newspapers see the whole matter as just a storm in a teacup.
That there is pro-Israeli, pro-Zionist lobbying in the British parliament is no surprise. Lobbying is a legitimate undertaking used to influence politicians. Lobbies inform politicians, take them on trips, and wine and dine them. Embassies were originally established as lobbying entities. But when an embassy interferes, or threatens to interfere, in who gets what position, or even tries to “take someone down,” this goes beyond the scope of lobbying and is direct interference in national politics.
In the film, Shai Masot, whose business card states he is a senior political officer for the Israeli embassy, laments how although the pro-Israeli lobby has influence over almost all the Conservative members of parliament and Conservative youth, the situation is not so rosy in the Labour Party. There is no young Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), and this is worrying. Influence now, with a Conservative government, is important, but influence in the future, whichever party is in power, is equally important. Masot states how there is a need to invest in the young people who will be future members of parliament, so that he and the Israeli Embassy will always be able to get their message across.
As a result, the undercover reporter, who goes by the name Robin, is asked to set up a youth group for LFI. He has a number of conversations with influential people. One of these is Michael Rubin, a parliamentary officer who was the election chairman of the Labour Students group at the time of the election for the National Union of Students (the largest and most influential students’ union in the U.K.). Rubin (probably no relation to the Michael Rubin who writes poisonous articles about Turkey) talks about how terrible the NUS president Malia Bouattia is, and says they should try to replace her with a more sympathetic person. The reasons why Bouattia is so awful is that she is Muslim and she is anti-Zionist.
But ousting the president of the National Union of Students is not enough for Shai Masot. He also has serious worries about Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. He refers to Corbyn as “crazy” and those who work with him as “extremists”.
There is an interesting conversation between Shai Masot and the Labour member of parliament Joan Ryan, in which Masot says he has been allocated 1 million pounds for Labour members of parliaments to visit Israel. It is not quite clear if this money is to pay for the trip, or if it is to go to some other person/persons.
There is also a conversation in a restaurant about “taking down” Sir Alan Duncan, the deputy foreign minister. There is a suggestion that perhaps a scandal needs to be created. Sir Duncan is opposed to the illegal Jewish settlements in Palestine. Masot goes on to say that he is not really worried about Boris Johnson, the Foreign Minister, because basically, in Masot’s words “Boris is an idiot”.
There has been outrage at what was filmed. The direct interference in Labour Party politics, the threat to bring down the head of the students’ union and a Conservative deputy minister, all this has led the shadow foreign secretary to ask the foreign affairs committee to carry out an inquiry into the matter. The worry is that the film has revealed “improper interference in our democratic politics.”
The U.K. Israeli embassy’s spokesperson stated in his Twitter account that “The Embassy of Israel rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable; the comments were made by a junior embassy employee (Shai Masot) who is not an Israeli diplomat.” Shai Masot has resigned and returned to Israel.
Jeremy Corbyn has called for a full investigation, yet the Prime Minister has refused to order such an undertaking. Even though Corbyn wrote to Theresa May that: “This is clearly a national security issue” and that an investigation is the only way to reassure the Parliament and the people that “such activities will not be tolerated by your government,” the response from a government spokesperson was not satisfactory. The answer was that the apology from the Israeli ambassador had been accepted and that it was “clear these comments do not reflect the views of the Embassy or the Government of Israel” and ended up by saying: “The U.K. has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”
Yet, there are many who do not believe that the matter is closed, nor that Shai Masot was acting without the approval of his superiors.
Craig Murray, a former ambassador and university rector, has made some interesting points in his blog. (https://www.craigmurray.org.U.K./archives/2017/01/britains-undesirable-immigrant-shai-masot-given-visa)
Murray looked up Shai Masot on the Diplomatic List. The Diplomatic List is a comprehensive listing of all people working in embassies. Yet, Shai Masot was nowhere on the Israeli Embassy’s list. This led Mr. Murray to ask some pertinent questions about how Shai Masot was granted residency status in the U.K..
The questions, directed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are interesting, but I will only quote one here. “Why is the British Government granting Israeli intelligence operatives false residency immigration status in the U.K. based on a deliberate lie about their role and position?” Mr. Murray has not yet received an answer to any of his questions.
The comments at the bottom of Mr. Murray’s post are equally revealing. One Abe Hayeem writes: “The activities of the various branches of the Israel lobby are well known. BICOM especially has almost free access into parliament and holds regular briefing for ministers and MPs. All the Conservative Friends of Israel MPs and peers (80% of them) have constant influence and again open access to ministers and frequently ask questions in support of Israel, parroting the Embassy hasbara line. Now we know that their questions are even drafted for them by the Embassy staff.” (Another matter which comes to light in the Al Jazeera film)
The correspondent continues: “We have seen how the whole sordid antisemitism campaign by the Lobby has wrought havoc in the Labour Party, and has been used as a political tool and witch-hunt against MPs and activists…”
Even more to the point is the following sentence: “Why has the mainstream media not taken up this scandalous story?”
Indeed…this is the real question. The very clear influence and meddling of an Israeli Embassy employee should not just be swept under the carpet. There should be a thorough investigation. Searching questions should be asked, as there are clearly efforts to control British parliamentary life, which directly affects all aspects of life in the U.K., especially the democratic process. These questions should be asked by journalists, by politicians and by members of the public.
There are many interesting points in this whole ugly mess on which questions could be asked. But space is limited. Let’s look at the most interesting aspects of this tsunami in a teacup.
The first is that there are clear efforts of a foreign power to influence British politics. The conversation about Malia Bouattia, the conversation about Sir Alan, the conversation about 1 million pounds for taking deputies to Israel….
A second interesting point is that in addition to “taking down” those who are against Israel, there is a clear attempt to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The best example of this is when a member of the Labour party asks balanced and reasonable questions to the LFI about how the two-state solution will actually work. In the end she is accused of being anti-Semitic, and a formal complaint is lodged against her. The complaint is dropped after being investigated by the Labour Party, but the fact that well-intentioned, clear and concise questions can be so quickly twisted into being anti-Semitic must ring alarm bells. If no one in the U.K., or elsewhere, is able to question or discuss or debate the two-state issue, or Israel’s actions, then how can a fair and just solution be arrived at?
The twisting of anything that is anti-Zionist into being anti-Semitic becomes even clearer in the final part of the series. Mark Regev, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.K., has always been a master at spinning messages. As such he gives a short lecture to a small group at the Labour conference, telling the members of parliament who are listening to him that it is terrible that “people who are progressive in Britain are supporting reactionaries like Hamas and Hizbollah”. He goes on to say that they should use the “language of social democracy” and that in this language these reactionary people should be described as “misogynistic…. homophobic…racist…anti-Semitic.” This, he states, is the “message” they should be giving. In other words, they should paint anyone who asks questions about Zionism, who stands with Palestine, as a terrorist, as a homophobe, as reactionary and as anti-Semitic. To create anti-Semitism where it does not exist these members of the Labour Party are being instructed to make use of hate-speech.
There is clear evidence that the term anti-Semitic is being hurled about to destroy careers. In one Labour Party training session a couple of people ask for a definition of anti-Semitism. Jackie Walker, a Jewish-Black member of the Labour Party and former vice-chairman of Momentum, a left-wing political organization, asked a simple question. Walker said: “I came in here … and I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.” As a result of this question, and a question about why the Holocaust commemorations are not open to all people who have experienced a Holocaust, Jackie Walker was forced to resign her post from Momentum, charged with being an anti-Semite. Walker issued an apology along the lines of “I am sorry if I have caused any offence.” Thus it is clear that in her eyes she actually did not do anything wrong. Any viewer of the Al Jazeera film would agree.
One last interesting point is the fourth part of the film shows AIPAC coming to give a briefing in London. The representative of AIPAC speaks of the “Israeli battleground where modernity and Western values meet the forces that want to destroy that way of life…”
These are interesting points for one very simple reason. Any Turk reading the above will be familiar with what is going one here. Twisting simple, straightforward concerns into “threats” that undermine the “modern” way of life is something that Turkey is very familiar with. The idea of there being a “battleground” between “modernity and Western values” and “forces that want to destroy our way of life” is also very familiar.
Even more familiar is getting rid of leaders who are uncomfortable to certain vested interests. There are a number of ways used to do this in Turkey, ranging from leaked (and probably doctored) videos to arrest and/or execution.
But the matter does not finish here. There is talk from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) of lodging a legal complaint as they feel that the undercover journalism was unethical. The problem is that Al Jazeera’s reporter used a “cloak of anonymity” and used “footage ….out of its original context to incite venom and hatred against Israel’s supporters in the U.K.”Yet, what the Al Jazeera reporter did was exactly what investigative journalism is. It is hard to imagine in what context it would be acceptable for someone in an influential position to talk about “taking down” or “taking on” people who are in the government or in a leadership position.