A six-month Al Jazeera investigation is about to lay bare the extent of the Israel lobby’s influence on the UK government and opposition Labour Party.
A four-part series that Al Jazeera will broadcast starting 15 January reveals an Israeli embassy agent plotting to “take down” British lawmakers deemed barriers to Israeli policy.
The network has released excerpts of the footage, filmed secretly in October, which can be seen above.
The video shows Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, plotting to “take down” Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan in a meeting with the aide to a rival junior minister.
Masot calls UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a strong supporter of Israel, an “idiot.”
The video also shows Masot telling Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan that he had “more than 1 million pounds” approved in Israeli government funding to bring UK lawmakers on junkets to Israel.
A front-page feature in The Mail on Sunday adds to the explosive revelations.
Alan Duncan, the minister targeted for “take down,” has often spoken critically of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The aide boasts in the undercover footage that “I thought we had… neutralized” Duncan “just a little bit.” But Masot demurs that Duncan was still “doing a lot of problems” and that the aide “knows which MPs I want to take down.”
“A little scandal maybe?” the aide, Maria Strizzolo, suggests, before asking, “please don’t tell anyone about our meeting.”
Strizzolo was aide to junior education minister Robert Halfon at the time – Halfon is former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel.
In the footage, Strizzolo boasts of CFI’s role in preparing public statements for MPs: “if you do everything for them it’s harder for them to say, ‘I don’t have the time … I won’t do it.”
A selection of Halfon’s statements to Parliament compiled by Middle East Eye strongly reflects the Israeli government’s agenda since 2010.
In a transcript of the meeting filmed by Al Jazeera and published by The Mail on Sunday, Masot and Strizzolo also name Crispin Blunt, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, as being hostile, and Strizzolo describes him as being on a “hit list.”
“This apparent activity of a diplomat of a foreign state in the politics of the United Kingdom is formally outrageous and deserving of investigation,” Blunt told The Guardian, in reaction to the revelations. Duncan declined to comment.
Former Conservative minister Desmond Swayne condemned Masot’s comments, telling The Mail on Sunday they were “very sinister.”
“There is anger in the US at Russia’s meddling in its democratic process and no such foreign meddling should be allowed in the UK,” Swayne added.
Strizzolo downplayed her conversation with Masot, telling The Mail on Sunday it was “tongue-in-cheek and gossipy.”
But on Sunday, she resigned from her current position in the education department after the footage hit headlines.
A Foreign Office spokesperson told Reuters on Sunday that “the UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”
The Israeli embassy went into full damage control mode, claiming that Masot was “a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat.”
The embassy also appeared to be throwing Masot under the bus, saying he would “be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly.”
Ambassador Mark Regev was also forced to make a humiliating apology to Duncan, in which he conceded that Masot’s remarks were “completely unacceptable.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy claimed that Masot’s comments “do not reflect the views of the embassy or the government of Israel.”
The opposition Labour Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Emily Thornberry called on Sunday for “an immediate inquiry into the extent of this improper interference” and said that the government should “demand from the Israeli government that it be brought to an end.”
“It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. This is a national security issue,” she said.
Much of the four-part Al Jazeera series will focus on covert Israeli interference in the Labour Party.
The Scottish National Party on Sunday also demanded an investigation and called for Masot to be expelled.
SNP foreign affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said, “it is completely unacceptable for the UK government to declare the matter closed – Shai Masot must go and go immediately before the end of his tenure at the Israeli embassy.”
Conservative MP Nicholas Soames said that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson should call in the Israeli ambassador and demand an explanation.
Despite the embassy’s denials, there is much to suggest that Israel is not telling to truth, and that Masot was faithfully enacting Israeli policy.
Masot habitually describes himself as a “senior political officer” at the embassy. His business card, seen by The Guardian, says as much.
He has worked for the Israeli embassy since 2014, and was previously a “head of diplomatic missions” with COGAT, the Israeli army body that rules the lives of millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and administers the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
He was also well-known in pro-Israel and Palestine solidarity circles at this year’s Labour Party conference. A pro-Palestinian source at the Labour conference last September told The Electronic Intifada that he was “definitely a diplomat”.
The undercover footage shows Masot telling Strizzolo that he had recently applied for a position in Israel as head of intelligence at the foreign ministry.
He then clarified, enigmatically, that he is “not a career diplomat.”
Masot, indeed, is not on the UK government’s list of approved diplomats.
This raises the possibility that Masot’s main affiliation is with an intelligence agency, or with Israel’s strategic affairs ministry.
In September, an Israeli foreign ministry cable leaked to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz warned that the activities of the strategic affairs ministry’s agents working out of the London embassy could put them in violation of British law.
The strategic affairs ministry’s campaign has received the full backing of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a $45-million annual budget.
That would not in any way reduce the responsibility of the foreign ministry, which, as the evidence indicates, has allowed the London embassy to be used as a base for attempts to bring down UK government officials deemed inimical to Israel’s agenda.
In addition to being prime minister, Netanyahu is also Israel’s foreign minister.
- Shai Masot
- Israel Lobby
- Al Jazeera
- Labour Party
- Conservative Party
- Conservative Friends of Israel
- Alan Duncan
- boris johnson
- Joan Ryan
- Labour Friends of Israel
- Maria Strizzolo
- Robert Halfon
- Crispin Blunt
- Desmond Swayne
- Israeli embassy in London
- Mark Regev
- Emily Thornberry
- Scottish National Party
- Alex Salmond
- Nicholas Soames
- Gilad Erdan
- Ministry of Strategic Affairs
- Benjamin Netanyahu