Skip to main content

REVEALED: AIPAC's plans to drag UK into 'US sphere' over Israel

Secret recordings suggest lobbying organisation has established 'AIPAC London' and is funding groups in UK to cultivate US-style campaigning
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses 2016 AIPAC conference via satellite link (AFP)

The Israeli embassy in London is working with the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee to set up pro-Israel groups and cultivate an American-style lobbying culture in the UK, secret recordings of an AIPAC event in the British capital appear to suggest.

In covertly filmed footage, a senior political officer at the embassy described how he had set up an organisation called the City Friends of Israel with AIPAC's support, and later brought AIPAC officials over from the US to address the group.

Shai Masot, the now-former embassy official at the centre of revelations about Israeli influence inside British politics, also told an Al Jazeera undercover reporter how he had arranged a meeting between Conservative and Labour party delegates and AIPAC's head of strategy in Washington in order that he could give them “some ideas for Britain”.

READ: Disgraced diplomat Shai Masot resigns from Israeli foreign ministry

Student activists in the UK also revealed how they had received funding from AIPAC to set up groups tasked with countering pro-Palestinian sentiment and undermining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign on university campuses.

AIPAC is considered one of the most effective lobbying organisations in American politics, with a member of its delegation telling his audience in London that it had built relationships with all 535 members of Congress.

But the secretly filmed videotapes shed new light on its ambitions and activities beyond Washington.

The tapes suggest that one organisation supported by AIPAC and by donors in Israel is the Pinsker Centre, which describes itself as “a coalition of young people educating about Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".

Speaking to an undercover Al Jazeera reporter last year, Adam Schapira, one of the centre’s co-founders, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), said its aim was to “reframe the rhetoric on UK campuses”.

“I feel like a lot more needs to be done in the educational field, bringing over diverse speakers from across the political spectrum on campus, present another narrative.”

Schapira also said in the recordings that the UJS had received money from the Israeli embassy.

In a statement on Twitter, however, Josh Nagli, the UJS’s campaign director, said that the group was neither directed nor funded by the embassy.

“We have a productive working relationship with the Israeli Embassy in the UK and warm contacts with a range of Israeli civil society organisations. We are of course neither funded nor in any way directed by the Israeli Embassy,” said Nagli.

The Pinsker Centre was co-founded by Elliot Miller, the national organiser of Student Rights, a campaign group that was established by the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society think-tank to support “freedom, equality, democracy and freedom from extremism on university campuses”.

Critics have accused Student Rights and the Henry Jackson Society of stoking Islamophobia. Confronted by Palestinian activists at an event at University College London in October last year, Miller described Islam as a “violent religion”.

In a Student Rights statement about the incident, Miller said that he and others attending the meeting had been confronted by “aggressive and violent protesters”.

The Al Jazeera documentary also alleges that student activists working to oppose National Union of Students President Malia Bouattia, who describes herself as an anti-Zionist, also had close links to Israel.

REVEALED: NUS official colluded with Israeli embassy to oust student leader

Miller told the undercover reporter he had spent a year working in the foreign ministry in Israel mainly on “Congress as far as AIPAC and stuff”.

“There’s a guy behind me, he’s in Israel. He’s the main guy. He’s the sort of guy who can walk into a room with the donor, and the donor will give him a cheque for £2,500. He’s a genius.”

He also said: “We went to AIPAC in March, and we got involved with AIPAC London.”

Middle East Eye contacted the Pinsker Centre and Student Rights for comment but did not get a response.

In another recording, Masot, the senior political officer at the Israeli embassy followed over several months by the undercover reporter, described how he had set up the “City Friends of Israel” with AIPAC.

“I’m establishing a group, it’s called the City Friends of Israel. And basically we are doing like a small lunch with a congressman from America. We are doing it, I am doing it with AIPAC,” Masot said.

MEE has not been able to establish whether any congressmen attended the meeting, but it was addressed by a former Democratic representative in South Carolina’s state legislature, Bakari Sellers.

Speaking at that meeting, an unidentified individual told the reporter that AIPAC’s strategic goal was “to get the UK to be more like the US than Europe, when it comes to Israel. Pull them, tug them into the US sphere”.

Joe Richards, an AIPAC director and the co-founder of the Fuel For Truth, a network of young professionals supportive of Israel, also addressed the lunch meeting, telling attendees about the lobbying methods it used to build relationships with “our 535 members of Congress: 100 in the Senate, 435 in the House”.

“We have about 13,000 members in AIPAC across the country. That’s it. All you need is a small amount to be very effective,” said Richards.

“Look at the country of Israel, it’s very small but they’re very effective in what they’re doing in many ways. That’s AIPAC in a nutshell.”

Masot also talked about how he had taken a delegation of donors from both the Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel groups to Washington and arranged for them to be briefed by AIPAC’S head of strategy.

READ: Shai Masot, the Israeli Machiavelli caught in the act

“The bottom line, we had a donor meeting with the head of strategy at AIPAC and he met us basically to teach us, you know, give us some ideas for Britain,” said Masot.

He described how he had had been tasked by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs in Israel with setting up a private company that would “work with the Israeli government” and act as a “liaison for international communities around the world”.

The position would be based in Israel but would involve working with “AIPAC and all the others”, Masot said.

MEE asked AIPAC for comment but did not receive a response.

Ron Wasserman, the chairman of Fuel for Truth, said the organisation did not have any activities in the UK. He said that while Fuel for Truth's website said that it had members from the UK, that referred to British members living in the US.

The Israeli embassy has described Masot as a “junior embassy employee”, although he appears to have had the job title of “senior political officer”. It said earlier in the week that remarks in which Masot had discussed “taking down” government minister Alan Duncan were “completely unacceptable”.

The Al Jazeera investigation also revealed how Masot had plotted to establish a youth group working within the opposition Labour Party to undermine its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn on Friday wrote to British Prime Minister Theresa May calling for an inquiry into allegations of Israeli influence in British public life.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.