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UK prime minister rejects call for inquiry into Israeli influence

Spokesperson says Theresa May 'considers matter closed' despite calls from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for probe into 'improper interference'
Theresa May's spokesperson said the UK had a "strong relationship with Israel" (AFP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has dismissed a call from opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for an investigation into allegations of improper Israeli influence in British public life.

A spokesperson for May on Wednesday reiterated that the government did not intend to take any further action over revelations in an Al Jazeera documentary series in which a secretly filmed member of staff at the Israeli embassy discussed "taking down" a government minister and talked about a "hit list" of MPs.

"The Israeli ambassador [Mark Regev] has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel," the spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

“The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

Labour leader Corbyn wrote to May last week to urge her to launch an investigation, suggesting that the evidence raised by the films should be treated as a “national security issue”.

The films included footage of Shai Masot, a senior political officer based in the embassy who was forced to resign after being exposed by an undercover reporter, discussing “taking down” foreign office minister Alan Duncan because he was causing "problems".

Masot also talked about setting up a pro-Israel youth group within the Labour Party and described Corbyn, a long-time supporter of Palestinian activism, as "crazy".

"I am sure you will agree that such improper interference in this country's democratic process is unacceptable, whichever country is involved," Corbyn wrote.

READ: Israeli diplomat worked inside Labour to discredit 'crazy' Corbyn

The Israeli embassy has sought to play down Masot's activities, describing him as a "junior member of staff" whose actions were "completely unacceptable". He has since left London and resigned from the Israeli foreign ministry.

Members of May's Conservative Party have also called for further action over the scandal, with Crispin Blunt, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, indicating that he hoped to include it within the committee's wider inquiry into the Middle East peace process.

"This is clearly interference in another country's politics of the murkiest and most discreditable kind," Blunt, who was also identified in the tapes as one of the MPs on Masot's "hit list", told MEE.

Al Jazeera's undercover recordings also raised issues about recent cases of allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. One episode examined how a party activist who raised questions concerning illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank with Joan Ryan, the chair of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) lobby group, became the subject of an anti-Semitism complaint.

The activist, identified in the documentary as Jean, was subsequently cleared.

READ: The inside story of Labour Party's anti-Semitism saga

Labour last year conducted an internal inquiry into anti-Semitism within the party following a series of reports of allegedly anti-Semitic incidents after Corbyn, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, became leader in 2015.

The Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported on Tuesday that the party's national executive committee (NEC) disputes panel had cleared two members of the Oxford University Labour Club who had been accused of anti-Semitism in complaints raised by Jewish students.

The Al Jazeera documentary contained footage in which Michael Rubin, the parliamentary officer for LFI, who also talked about working "really close together behind the scenes" with the Israeli embassy, said that he had conducted the investigation into the Oxford anti-Semitism allegations in his former role as the chair of Labour Students.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said in a statement that the NEC's decision was "nothing short of disgraceful.

"The party had an opportunity to put its values into practice, to demonstrate how seriously they take the issue of anti-Semitism and to show that Labour Clubs are welcome spaces for Jewish students, but they have failed miserably," it said.

"They have let Jewish students down and in doing so, they have created an atmosphere in which anti-Semitism may thrive without fear of being challenged."

The UJS has denied allegations contained in the Al Jazeera document that it had received funding from the Israeli embassy.

Ryan on Wednesday launched a bill in parliament backed by both LFI and the Conservative Friends of Israel calling for the government to support the creation of an "International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace".

The US, Europe, the international community including Arab states, and the private sector would contribute 25 percent each to the $200m-a-year fund to support organisations "building people-to-people cooperation and coexistence," Ryan said.

Writing in the Times newspaper, Ryan said: “On my visits to Israel and the Palestine Territories with Labour Friends of Israel, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the impact co-existence projects… witnessing remarkable young Israelis and Palestinians who started the programme with a sense of fear, grow to become friends and leaders in their own communities.”