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|Posted: Mon Jan 09, 2017 1:35 am Post subject: Israeli diplomat Shai Masot take down UK minister Al Jazeera
|Israeli diplomat who plotted against MPs also set up political groups
Shai Masot is filmed covertly as he boasts about establishing several groups, at least one intended to influence Labour policy
Israeli diplomat boasts about setting up political groups in UK – video
Ewen MacAskill and Ian Cobain
Sunday 8 January 2017 20.00 GMT Last modified on Sunday 8 January 2017 22.00 GMT
An Israeli embassy official who plotted to “take down” MPs regarded as hostile has also set up a number of political organisations in the UK that operated as though entirely independent.
Shai Masot was filmed covertly as he boasted about establishing several groups, at least one of which was intended to influence Labour party policy, while appearing to obscure their links to Israel.
The disclosure comes as Labour demanded the government launch an immediate inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”. A former Tory government minister also called for an inquiry into the Israeli embassy’s links with two organisations, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).
Meanwhile, Masot is being sent back to Israel in disgrace, and a civil servant and Conservative official who was also filmed discussing ways to discredit MPs has resigned from her post.
Masot and Maria Strizzolo, a manager with the Skills Funding Agency and aide to Robert Halfon, an education minister, were filmed by a man they knew as Robin, who they believed to be an LFI activist but who was actually an undercover reporter with al-Jazeera’s investigative unit.
Among the MPs that Masot and Strizzolo discussed “taking down” was Sir Alan Duncan, a foreign minister and a vocal supporter of a Palestinian state.
In the latest recordings, Masot boasts of establishing organisations “in Israel and here [in the UK]”. When asked what he means, the Israeli official replies: “Nothing I can share, but yeah, adding: “Yeah, because there are things that, you know, happen, but it’s good to leave those organisations independent. But we help them, actually.”
LFI and CFI are established organisations, founded in the 1950s and 1970s respectively to support Israel and combat antisemitism. The footage taken by al-Jazeera shows Masot wanted Robin to head up a new organisation, Young Labour Friends of Israel.
At a meeting last July, Masot explains that he had the idea for a group called Young Conservative Friends of Israel in 2015, and wanted to set up a Young Labour Friends of Israel at that time. “When I tried to do the same in Labour they had a crisis back then with Corbyn. So instead of that I took a delegation to Israel … I took a Fabians group to Israel,” he says.
Masot also says in the footage of that meeting that he does not wish to see Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership contest with Owen Smith. During another meeting, he describes Corbyn as “a crazy leader”.
Analysis Why might an Israeli diplomat believe Alan Duncan needs 'taking down'?
Figures like Shai Mosat, filmed plotting against MPs, know the foreign minister’s views and Middle East links are influential
“I would prefer that the party will not stay with Corbyn,” he says. Referring to a number of Labour MPs who had recently visited the West Bank, he adds: “Some of them are against Corbyn, so who knows?”
Masot advised Robin that he should launch the Young Labour Friends of Israel by first organising a reception, and then setting up an email list.LFI needs to be rejuvenated by a new youth group, he adds.
“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. CFI, they’re doing it automatically. All the 14 new MPs who got elected in the last elections did it automatically. In the LFI it didn’t happen. We need to get more people on board. It’s a lot of work, actually.”
At a meeting the following month, Masot suggests Robin might want to be chairman of the group he is establishing. He also says Robin should not tell other people that the embassy has established the group. “LFI is an independent organisation. No one likes that someone is managing his organisation. That really is the first rule in politics.”
In September, while on a train to Liverpool for the Labour conference, Masot tells Robin he is also establishing a group called City Friends of Israel. Once in Liverpool, the footage shows Masot introducing Robin at conference social events as the “Young LFI chairman”.
The disclosure that Masot was also attempting to influence Labour affairs by establishing new political groups is likely to enrage the party’s leaders, who have already characterised the threat to “take down” MPs as a serious national security issue.
The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said: “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.
“This is a national security issue. The embassy official involved should be withdrawn and the government should launch an immediate inquiry into the extent of this improper interference and demand from the Israeli government that it be brought to an end.”
One former minister in David Cameron’s government said the embassy’s efforts to exert improper influence on British public life went far further than any plot to “take down” unhelpful members of parliament.
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Israeli official discusses how to discredit UK MPs in undercover footage
Writing anonymously in the Mail on Sunday, the former minister said: “British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics, and those in authority have ignored what is going on.
“For years the CFI and LFI have worked with – even for – the Israeli embassy to promote Israeli policy and thwart UK government policy and the actions of ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights.”
The former minister said there needed to be a full inquiry into the Israeli embassy’s links with CFI and LFI, and that while political parties should welcome funding from the UK’s Jewish community, they should not accept any engagement linked to Israel until it ceases new developments on Palestinian land.
“This opaque funding and underhand conduct is a national disgrace and humiliation and must be stamped out,” he wrote.
After an apology from the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, the British government said it considered the matter closed. However, Alex Salmond, the Scottish National party’s foreign affairs spokesman, said this position was not acceptable.
“I would expect the UK government to fully investigate this matter so that we can be confident our elected officials are free to carry out their jobs to the best of their ability and without fear of having their reputation smeared by embassy officials who do not agree with their views.”
Masot’s precise role at the embassy is unclear. He is known to be a former officer in the Israeli navy and is thought to remain an employee of the Israeli defence ministry. His embassy business card describes him as a senior political officer, but the embassy says he is not a diplomat.
In his LinkedIn profile, Masot says his work includes “founding several political support groups in the UK to maximise the Israeli ‘firewall’”. He also says he helped to secure “adjustments to legislation” in the UK.
Former diplomats said Masot was highly unlikely to operating without authority. Sir William Patey, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, said: “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.”
A senior Conservative said: “No MP who has taken an active interest in the affairs of the Middle East, not least the central issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will be unaware of the strength of the Israeli lobby. Like Israel itself they are powerful and effective and sail pretty close to the line of what is normally acceptable.”
"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung