Exposed: Israeli Gov't Plotted to Subvert British Political System with Front Groups, 'Take Down' Critics
An undercover investigation has exposed how an official working in Israel's embassy in the United Kingdom planned to "take down" lawmakers who supported Palestinian rights and to create pro-Israel political groups that claimed to be independent.
Shai Masot, a senior political officer at Israel's embassy in London and an officer in the Israeli army, was caught on camera plotting with a Conservative British civil servant to target the deputy foreign minister and "pro-Arab" members of Parliament who are on a "hitlist."
After Masot's comments were exposed, the Israeli government distanced itself from the diplomat and said it would be ending his position at the embassy.
The U.K. Foreign Office immediately declared the issue to be "closed." Hours later, however, another revelation dropped: The Israeli embassy official was also planning to set up an ostensibly independent pro-Israel group to influence Labour Party policy, while hiding its links to the Israeli government. He also despised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whom he disparaged as "crazy."
The Labour shadow foreign secretary called for an investigation into the scandal and characterized the Israeli embassy's plans as "a national security issue."
Masot's comments were filmed by an undercover reporter at Al Jazeera. The video of the Israeli diplomat's conversation has not yet been released, but it is part of a four-part series that will begin broadcasting on January 15. The Guardian obtained early access to the video and first reported these stories.
On Saturday, January 7, The Guardian published a video clip from the Al Jazeera investigation that shows a conversation between Shai Masot and Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant who has worked for top Conservative Party officials. The two discussed ways to tarnish the reputations of members of Parliament who are critical of the Israeli government. "If you look hard enough, I'm sure that there is something that they’re trying to hide," Strizzolo said, adding, "A little scandal, maybe."
"Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?" Masot asked Strizzolo. As one of such targets, the Israeli diplomat named Deputy Foreign Minister Alan Duncan, who has spoken out in support of Palestinians. “I thought we had, you know, neutralized him just a little bit, no?” Strizzolo asked. Masot replied, “No.”
The two also singled out Crispin Blunt, the chair of the House of Commons' foreign affairs select committee and a supporter of Palestinian rights. Masot lamented that he is "pro-Arab" and Strizzolo said he is on a "hitlist."
Blunt told The Guardian that "this apparent activity of a diplomat of a foreign state in the politics of the United Kingdom is formally outrageous and deserving of investigation."
Strizzolo resigned after her comments were exposed. She tried to downplay her discussion with Masot, claiming the "context of the conversation was light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy."
The British Foreign Office, controlled by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Teresa May, did its best to downplay and dismiss the exposÃ©: "The Israeli ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel. The U.K. has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”
The scandal was far from over, however. The opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn called for the government to launch an immediate investigation into what it called "improper interference in our democratic politics." Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry remarked, “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”
The next day, Sunday, January 8, The Guardian published further revelations about the Israeli diplomat's plans. New video clips from Al Jazeera's investigation showed the Israeli embassy official admitting that there are pro-Israel groups in the U.K. that claim to be independent, "But we help them, actually."
In conversations with a young man by the name of Robin, Masot said he hoped to create a youth branch of the pro-Israel group Labour Friends of Israel. But when the leftist Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in a historic landslide victory, Masot's plans hit a dead end. "So instead of that I took a delegation to Israel," he added.
Masot believed Robin was an activist with Labour Friends of Israel. In reality, he was an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera.
The Israeli embassy official condemned Corbyn as "a crazy leader" and said he wanted him to lose the Labour leadership election. “I would prefer that the party will not stay with Corbyn,” Masot said, adding hopefully that some Labour MPs who visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank "are against Corbyn."
Masot implored Robin to launch a new group called Young Labour Friends of Israel, but insisted it must claim to be independent. “Not a lot of young people want to be affiliated. For years, every MP that joined the parliament joined the LFI. They’re not doing it any more in the Labour party," Masot lamented.
Video shows the Israeli diplomat introducing Robin as the "chairman" of the group Young Labour Friends of Israel. Footage also reveals Masot's plans to launch the group City Friends of Israel.
On his LinkedIn account, Masot said his duties included "founding several political support groups in the UK to maximise the Israeli 'firewall'" and facilitating “adjustments to legislation.”
Although the Israeli government withdrew the diplomat and distanced itself from him, William Patey, a former British ambassador, told The Guardian, “The idea that he would be operating on his own I find fanciful. We know there is a lobby in this country that seeks to portray in the best possible light and seeks to isolate and denigrate critics of Israeli policy.”