Israeli embassy monitored activists at UK conference

Yael Jolie Noy at a University of Bath conference.

Asa Winstanley The Electronic Intifada

Israel’s London embassy sent officials to monitor a conference at the University of Bath this week.

Helen Thompson, a political analyst, and Yael Jolie Noy, a political assistant at the embassy, registered for the 8-11 June “Understanding Conflict: Research, ideas and responses to security threats” conference shortly before registration closed, organizers say.

The two also apparently took measures to downplay or conceal their affiliations with the Israeli government.

The conference included speakers critical of Israel, such as author Max Blumenthal, writer Norman Finkelstein and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist Mick Napier.

Other key topics were anti-Muslim racism and the Islamophobia network. The former Guantanamo Bay prisoner and well-known civil rights activist Moazzam Begg spoke at the launch of a new report on the Henry Jackson Society Thursday.

Thompson took notes on a laptop and Noy took notes, photos and audio recordings throughout the conference.

Noy seemed to take particular interest in slides SPSC’s Mick Napier used to present a talk on boycott campaigning against Israel. She took photos of every slide using her phone. She made an attempt to appear as if busy with texting or browsing, but would then move her phone up slightly to take photos of the slides.

Intelligence gathering

Noy initially refused to comment when approached by The Electronic Intifada, making a swift exit from the building.

A profile photo from Yael Jolie Noy’s Twitter page.

Asked why she photographed Napier’s slides, she said it was “just so I wouldn’t have to write notes.” But this reporter had observed her handwriting notes during more than one session: “oh no actually I’ve been writing to my boyfriend,” she claimed.

She said audio recordings she took on her phone were merely for her own use: “I’m going to listen to them before bed.”

She avoided the question when asked if the photos and notes were being sent to the Mossad, Israel’s deadly external spy agency. When pressed, she replied: “not that I know.” She then said “of course. I’m sending it everywhere. Everywhere. To space.”

The question about whether she was monitoring activists on behalf of her government’s intelligence-gathering efforts is by no means far fetched.

Spying on activists

As far back as 2010, the Reut Institute, a think-tank with close ties to Israel’s political-military establishment, recommended that Israeli intelligence monitor Palestine solidarity activists as part of Israel’s efforts to “sabotage” and “attack” their work. Israel later officially adopted much of Reut’s strategy.

In 2013, it was revealed that Israel’s London embassy had at least two people on staff whose full-time brief is to monitor and counter boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.

Israel’s Haaretz has also revealed that in 2010, “Israeli intelligence began to concentrate on monitoring the social networks of Islamic organizations and foreign left-wing activists.”

But at the Bath conference, Noy said she was “just here to learn, to enrich myself … here to listen”

Helen Thompson did not reply to an email requesting comment.

Misrepresentation

At Wednesday morning’s keynote session, Max Blumenthal talked about anti-Semitism and “ultra-Zionism.” Noy was observed recording audio on her phone during that session. At the end of the session, conference organizer David Miller asked the room if any one was recording. Noy did not reply.

During a session titled “Anti-Muslim Racism and Right Wing Movements,” she asked a question about whether Islamophobia is a reaction to the 2013 murder of British soldier Lee Rigby. She did not mention who she works for.

Thompson registered with conference organizers as the Israeli embassy. But Noy did not wear a conference badge that named her as an Israeli embassy official. Thompson came on Monday and Tuesday, while Noy was there for the Wednesday and Thursday sessions. Arriving Wednesday, Noy claimed to be Helen Thompson, a conference spokesperson said.

Information deleted from Helen Thompson’s LinkedIn profile.

Soon after registering, Thompson edited her LinkedIn profile to remove mention of her position as “Political Analyst at Embassy of Israel ” replacing it to read vaguely “International Embassy.”

Before publication of this article, Noy’s LinkedIn listed her employment with Israel’s foreign ministry in London, as well as past office work in the Israeli air force and arms industry. It has since been edited to remove all that information, but you can read a full copy by clicking here (see extract above).

“Unusual”

Mick Napier said Israel was monitoring activists in this way because they were panicking about a “profound crisis” in how public opinion in the UK is against Israel. “They’re planning how to deal with BDS as a real strategic threat,” he said. “They don’t know how to deal with it yet. They really don’t: nothing has worked. They can’t behead it, because there’s no head … They’re working on strategies. I think it’s data collection: know your enemy, probe for weak points, demonize, try to sniff out anti-Semitism.”

Max Blumenthal said that the Israeli government were “the ones with something to hide. Everything I do is public.”

David Miller, a professor of Sociology at the University of Bath and a conference organizer, said that the conference had people “from civil society groups, from the Ministry of Defence, from the British Council or the police speaking, or they were here as researchers. But there were no other people who were here as essentially gathering information” apart from the Israelis.

The person from the Ministry of Defence was fairly open about her presence and announced it during question and answer sessions. Noy had been far more low key. She “didn’t engage, only spoke when spoken to didn’t wear a badge.” Thompson had been “on her laptop the whole time,” Miller added.

“It’s unusual,” he said. “I’ve never had people from government departments come to an academic conference, I think that’s not the kind of thing that you’d expect.”

Israel has recently announced a massive escalation in its global efforts against the Palestinian rights movement, including allocating millions more dollars to fighting BDS.

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Comments

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Did Yael do anything wrong? If both sides were to listen to each other, perhaps we could be closer to peace.

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There is no "two sides." What there is a regime of ethnic cleansing racist gangsters acting as agents of a criminal empire.

What I find, as a Jew, particularly obnoxious, is that they attempt to defile Judaism, by using it as a pretext for their crimes.

Shame on them!

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Listen to the noises from the Israeli Govt - vicious racism, that's of repeated massacres, a practice of Zionism since 1947. If you mean serious discussion, that should really wait until the crimes stop, don't you think?

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.