Did Israeli embassy spy on Scottish National Party?

SNP activist Andy Murray was banned from entering Israel soon after meeting Israeli embassy agent Shai Masot.

A prominent Scottish National Party activist has told The Electronic Intifada that he has “no doubt” that the Israeli embassy official who plotted to “take down” a “hit list” of UK lawmakers was responsible for his deportation by Israel.

Andy Murray, founder of SNP Friends of Palestine, was detained and questioned at Tel Aviv airport in November 2015, when travelling in advance of a parliamentary delegation.

During his interrogation, Murray was presented with a series of photographs of him manning the Friends of Palestine stall at the SNP conference in Aberdeen the previous month.

The SNP is the governing party in Scotland.

At the conference Murray had been approached at the stall by a man who later identified himself via a business card as Shai Masot, a “senior political officer” at the Israeli embassy.

An undercover investigation by Al Jazeera has exposed Masot plotting to “take down” UK lawmakers regarded as hostile to Israel, including deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan.

The Israeli embassy on Sunday attempted to distance itself from Masot, saying he was “a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat.”

The four-part film, set to air starting on Wednesday, will also expose Israeli embassy infiltration of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party.

Murray told The Electronic Intifada that SNP Friends of Palestine was constituted in August 2015 and they were making their first official appearance at the party conference.

At the October party conference Murray realized Masot “had been walking around and eyeing us up for a while. He then approached the stall and started asking questions about SNP Friends of Palestine.”

Murray added: “At this point he didn’t make it known who he was and who he worked for. He started asking questions like ‘Why is there a need for SNP Friends of Palestine? Why no SNP Friends of Israel? Israel are the ones who need help.’”

“He wasn’t aggressive but he was very hawkish,” Murray said. “He was pushy and very defensive towards Israel. I noticed his accent and I asked who he was. After a while he gave me a card and admitted that he worked in the embassy.”

According to Murray, Masot invited him to a meeting at the Israeli embassy in London before saying, “I’ll see you around” and leaving.

The next month Murray flew to Tel Aviv alongside staff from other political parties in advance of a fact-finding mission. They had planned to meet with members of the Israeli parliament and Palestinian representatives in the occupied West Bank.

However, on arrival, Murray was taken aside by Israeli security officials and interrogated. He was then held in detention before being deported back to the UK.

Covert photos

“The interrogation went on for roughly 10-12 hours,” Murray told The Electronic Intifada. “They actually seemed quite clued up on the SNP and Scotland and spent a lot of time trying to mock me. They said things like, ‘Are you are going to start doing what your Arab friends do and start throwing stones? Are you going to start killing the English?’”

It was only when Murray was presented with pictures of himself from the conference in Aberdeen that the link with Masot clicked in his mind.

“It was late on during the questioning that they threw down a folder in front of me,” he explained. “They opened it up and spread out photographs of me and others taken at the conference in Aberdeen. They were obviously taken covertly from a distance.”

“It dawned on me that it was connected to Shai Masot, who had approached the stall and tried to interact with us,” Murray said. “I have no doubt in my mind that they are connected.”

These latest revelations add to a growing picture of Masot’s activities in the UK.

Intelligence officer?

Despite working out of the Israeli embassy, Masot was not on the UK government’s list of approved diplomats.

In the undercover footage filmed by Al Jazeera, Masot says that he “is not a career diplomat” and had recently applied for a position in Israel as head of intelligence at the foreign ministry.

This raises the possibility that Masot’s main affiliation is with an intelligence agency, or with Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, which has been tasked with a campaign of “black ops” against Palestine solidarity.

Masot has been a regular presence at political party conferences and the Al Jazeera film shows him alongside Israel’s UK ambassador Mark Regev at the Labour Party conference last year.

Sarah Ludford, vice-president of the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel, admitted on Twitter that she had met Masot several times but said there was “nothing of interest here.”

The film also shows Masot boasting about setting up a number of political organizations in the UK that operated as though they were independent.

In 2016 a group calling itself SNP Friends of Peace in the Middle East was established by a former Israeli soldier Sammy Stein.

A leading member of the Scottish Jewish community last year called it “a front group for the interests of the Israeli government.”

Murray told The Electronic Intifada that he would not be surprised if Masot was involved in helping to establish the organization. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he was involved – especially now we know that this operative was involved in helping to set up similar groups,” he said.

“The fact is he came to the SNP conference a year ago and then a year later this group sprung up,” he said. “I’d be very, very surprised if there is no connection. It’s quite obvious this guy’s job is to infiltrate the political parties of the UK.”

The SNP’s foreign affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond has called for Masot to be immediately expelled from the UK and echoed a demand from the Labour Party for an investigation into political interference by the Israeli embassy.

Liam O’Hare is a journalist based in Scotland.