Israel’s strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan has denied outright that an official at Israel’s London embassy exposed plotting to “take down” UK lawmakers deemed hostile to Israel works for his ministry.
But the embassy official, Shai Masot, revealed to an undercover reporter working for Al Jazeera that he was indeed working on a secret project for Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs.
In the fourth and final part of Al Jazeera’s groundbreaking film The Lobby, to be broadcast on Saturday, Masot will be seen telling the reporter that he is involved in a project to set up a front company run by the strategic affairs ministry to help fight the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement.
Masot’s statements secretly recorded during Al Jazeera’s six-month undercover investigation of the Israel lobby’s influence in the UK directly contradict Erdan’s flat denial made in a series of tweets on Thursday.Erdan tweeted: “Shai Masot does not work in my ministry. My ministry has no employees abroad. There is no connection to my ministry.”
Erdan was responding to a column by Israeli journalist Gideon Eshet in the mass circulation daily Yediot Ahronot which identified Masot as a likely employee of Erdan’s ministry.
The indignant Erdan tweeted that Eshet’s claims were “lies” and a “disgrace.”
Hours after Erdan’s denial, news broke confirming that Masot had resigned from his post as a senior political officer at the London embassy.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson told Middle East Eye that “Masot resigned three days ago and I want to emphasize that Masot will not have any contact with the Ministry for Strategic Affairs in the near future.”
The foreign ministry official’s reference to the strategic affairs ministry casts even more doubt on Erdan’s denial. It also comes in the context of a long-running turf war between the two ministries over who should receive the biggest budget and powers to combat BDS.
Last year, Israeli diplomats even accused the strategic affairs ministry of “operating” UK Jewish organizations in a manner that could potentially breach UK law.
Veteran Israeli journalist Yossi Melman has described the secret efforts of Erdan’s strategic affairs ministry to thwart the BDS movement as “black ops.”
The strategic affairs ministry has stressed that most of its anti-BDS activities would remain secret.
In recent days, the Israeli embassy in London, which answers to the foreign ministry, has also sought to distance itself from Masot.
Despite the fact that Masot is seen in Al Jazeera’s film working in close concert with his embassy colleagues, the embassy has tried to portray him as a junior staffer and a loose cannon.
Calls for investigation
If both the foreign and strategic affairs ministries are to be believed, then Masot was somehow able to operate in plain sight of senior officials of the Israeli embassy, the UK Israel lobby and members of Parliament, without anyone really knowing what he was doing.
That is clearly absurd on its face – and the evidence, including Masot’s own secretly recorded admission, shows otherwise. The obvious explanation is that Israel is deeply embarrassed by the exposure of the activities of its London embassy.
One of the senior British politicians on the “hit list” of officials Masot aimed to “take down” is deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan, who has criticized Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.
The Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, as well as senior figures in the governing Conservative Party, have expressed outrage at Israel’s interference in the UK’s political process and have called for investigations.
Asked about Masot in Parliament on Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that “The Israeli ambassador made a very full apology for what had taken place and the diplomat in question seems no longer to be a functionary of the embassy in London – so whatever he may exactly have been doing here his cover may well be said to have been well and truly blown – so the matter can be considered closed.”
The Lobby can be viewed online and on Al Jazeera English this week.
Dena Shunra contributed research and translation.