Secret tapes expose how embassy employee sought to launch youth group amid concerns about waning Israeli influence within UK opposition
Undercover recordings seen by Middle East Eye have revealed how an Israeli diplomat sought to establish organisations and youth groups to promote Israeli influence inside the opposition Labour party, in an effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.
In secret conversations filmed by an undercover reporter, an employee at the Israeli embassy in London, Shai Masot, described his plans to set up a youth wing of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) organisation and revealed that he had set up other such organisations in the past.
Masot described taking delegations of Labour members on trips to Israel and told Joan Ryan, the chair of LFI, that he had been approved £1m ($1.2m) to fund further visits.
He also said he had set up a group called “The City Friends of Israel” in collaboration with AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobbying organisation in the US.
Describing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “crazy”, Masot said he had set up a youth-wing of the Conservative Friends of Israel in 2015 and wanted to do the same inside the Labour Party, but had been unsuccessful because of the “crisis” surrounding Corbyn's election as leader.
Masot also described Corbyn's supporters as "weirdos" and "extremists".
Corbyn is considered supportive of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which Masot elsewhere in the recordings said he had been tasked with discrediting and undermining.
Asked whether he had set up other groups in the UK, Masot said:' Nothing I can share, but yeah'
Corbyn's tenure in power has seen a parliamentary revolt against his leadership and the party's fortunes slide in the polls. He has also presided over a row within the party over the alleged presence - and toleration - of anti-Semitic views among members.
The conversations were covertly filmed by an undercover Al Jazeera reporter posing as a pro-Israel Labour activist who gained Masot's trust and infiltrated his circle so effectively that he was himself tasked with the job of establishing Young Labour Friends of Israel.
In a subsequent conversation, Masot stressed that the organisation should remain independent, but reiterated that the Israeli embassy could help.
Asked whether he had set up other groups in the UK, he said: “Nothing I can share, but yeah.”
He then said: “Yeah, because there are things that, you know, happen, but it’s good to leave those organisations independent. But we help them, actually.”
Shai Masot was secretly filmed over a number of months (Al Jazeera)
The undercover reporter also caught pro-Israel Labour activists on film describing financial support that they had received from the Israeli embassy.
In one conversation filmed outside a London pub, Michael Rubin, the parliamentary officer for LFI and a former leader of Labour Students, said: “Shai spoke to me and said the Israeli embassy will be able to get a bit of money as well, which is good... he said he’s happy to sort of help fund a couple of events so it makes it easier, so I don’t think money should be a problem really.”
Rubin also said that he and Masot “work really closely together... but a lot of it is behind the scenes”.
The latest revelations come as the UK government on Sunday faced mounting calls for an inquiry into the activities of Masot, a senior political officer based in Israel's embassy in London who was secretly filmed plotting to “take down” government ministers and MPs considered to be causing “problems” for Israel.
They included Alan Duncan, a foreign office minister who has been one of the most vocal critics of Israel's illegal West Bank settlement programme, and Crispin Blunt, the influential chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs select committee.
The tapes also exposed the extent of Israeli influence within the ruling Conservative Party, with one assistant to Robert Halfon, a junior education minister, boasting about how she had planted parliamentary questions, and describing how “pretty much” every Conservative MP was a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
Masot complained that the Labour Party under Corbyn, who in a meeting with activists in 2009 referred to the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah as “friends”, had proved harder to influence, despite its historic links with Israel.
“Not a lot of people want to be affiliated,” says Masot in the video recording. “Obviously when they become MPs they won’t be affiliated and then that’s it, the chain is done. Because for years, every MP that joined the parliament, the first thing that he used to do is go to join the LFI.”
In footage filmed at last September's Labour conference in Liverpool, Masot is seen discussing plans with Joan Ryan, the MP for Enfield North in London, for a forthcoming visit by LFI members to Israel.
“What happened with the names that we put into the Embassy, Shai?” Ryan inquired.
“Just now we’ve got the money, it’s more than one million pounds, it’s a lot of money,” Masot replied.
“I know, it must be,” said Ryan.
“And now I’ve got the money so from Israel so… it’s not physical, it’s an approval,” Masot continued to explain.
“I didn’t think you had it in your bag!” joked Ryan.
The exchange prompted a call from Sir Hugo Swire, a Conservative MP who chairs the Conservative Middle East Council, for the Friends of Israel organisations linked to all of the UK's main parties to disclose their funding arrangements.
“There are serious questions to be asked,” Swire told MEE. “This raises a whole lot of issues on a whole lot of different levels. The Conservative Middle East Council is a properly affiliated organisation within the Conservative Party. Therefore we have to fall within the parameters of corporate donations and individual donations as does the party itself.
He said that certain groups were not officially accredited to their respective parties. "I do think the time has come for these organisations to come out public and reveal how they are funded and where they are funded from.”
I do think the time has come for these organisations to come out public and reveal how they are funded and where they are funded from
- Sir Hugo Swire, Conservative MP
Labour on Sunday called for a full investigation into Masot's activities, after the government on Saturday said it considered the matter closed following an apology to Duncan from Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador.
Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow foreign minister, 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.
“Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved. It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. 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.”
Labour has been backed in its call for an inquiry by the Scottish National Party and several senior Conservative MPs.
Crispin Blunt told MEE: "What we cannot have is Israel acting in the UK with the same impunity it enjoys in Palestine.
"This is clearly interference in another country's politics of the murkiest and most discreditable kind."
'What we cannot have is Israel acting in the UK with the same impunity it enjoys in Palestine'
- Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP
Nicholas Soames, another Conservative MP, told MEE's Peter Oborne: “This ranks as the equivalent of Soviet intelligence in what they are doing to suborn democracy and interfere in due process.”
Writing anonymously in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, a former minister in the previous government led by David Cameron, said that British foreign policy was “in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics.
“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 Israeli embassy has sought to play down Masot's seniority describing him as a “junior embassy employee” whose remarks had been “completely unacceptable”.
It said he would be “ending his term of employment at the embassy very shortly”.