Israel embassy plot: Labour pushes for inquiry into Shai Masot scandal
The British Labour Party has called on the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee to launch an investigation into the influence of Israeli embassy officials in UK politics, following revelations reported by Middle East Eye.
In a letter to committee chairman Crispin Blunt, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called for an inquiry into "improper interference" by the Israeli embassy, after video footage filmed by an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera appeared to show the embassy's political officer discussing ways to "take down" deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan.
"The exposure of the Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing," she said.
"Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved."
"This is a national security issue, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should immediately launch an inquiry into the extent of improper influence and I shall be writing to Boris Johnson to that effect.
"However, I wonder if it is also a matter for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to investigate as well."
Maria Strizzolo, the British civil servant caught discussing the "take down" with Shai Masot, resigned on Sunday.
In the tapes, Masot, who in an online profile deactivated on Saturday described Niccolo Machiavelli as his "God", asked Strizzolo: "Can I give you some MPs that you can take down?"
Strizzolo, who had recently moved to a position in the education department, replied: "Well you know, if you look hard enough I'm sure that there is something they are trying to hide."
Masot said: "Yeah, I have some MPs."
Strizzolo said: "Let’s talk about it."
Masot then told the undercover reporter accompanying them: "No, she knows which MPs I want to take down."
Masot also described in the video 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 groups in the past.
He 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.
Corbyn has faced parliamentary revolts against his leadership and his party has slid in the polls. He has also presided over a row within the party over the alleged presence - and toleration - of anti-Semitic views among some members.
The Shai Masot 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.”
Boris Johnson has rejected calls to take disciplinary action against the Israeli embassy in London.
The British foreign secretary told the House of Commons on Tuesday that Shai Masot was no longer in London, and that the Israeli embassy had issued a full apology. The matter, he said, was closed - a parroting of the Foreign Office's original statement on the scandal on Saturday evening.
However, Crispin Blunt told MEE that there was a need for greater scrutiny.
"What we cannot have is Israel acting in the UK with the same impunity it enjoys in Palestine," he said.
"This is clearly interference in another country's politics of the murkiest and most discreditable kind."