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Al Jazeera revealed much more than one embassy employee’s misconduct

Image of Shai Masot [Electronic Intifada/Twitter]
Image of Shai Masot [Electronic Intifada/Twitter]

For many who follow the Palestinian cause closely, Al-Jazeera’s six-month investigation into the activities of the Israeli Embassy’s political wing feels like a watershed moment. The years of being called anti-Semitic for believing that the pro-Israel lobby has too much sway in Westminster have been vindicated by incontrovertible evidence of the embassy not interacting with the government of the day — which is legitimate diplomatic activity — but actually trying to influence the internal operation of Britain’s political parties; indeed, to “take down” a minister of the Crown.

The former CIA station chief Robert Grenier wrote perhaps the best response to the scandal for Al-Jazeera; it is worth reading in full, as he summed up the diplomatic angle well: “The fact that Mr Masot, the Israeli operative, is so careful to ensure that Israeli fingerprints are kept hidden, and that his own role, beyond that of an overt advocate for Israel, is both discreet and deniable, may give us a hint — as does the rather unseemly haste with which Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to Britain, has of late disavowed Mr Masot’s activities.” Grenier then gave an example of perhaps where he had himself contemplated similar actions in his shadowy past. “These activities would be perfectly legal if openly performed by legitimate entities… but would be thoroughly illegal if promoted in secrecy by a foreign power. And therein lay the critical difference.”

The Jewish Chronicle, which once held a far more questioning view of the Israeli state than it does today, has — surprise, surprise — only published pieces critical of Al-Jazeera, using falsehoods in the process. “Boastful idiots do not a plot make,” judged JC Editor Stephen Pollard. “After six months of secret filming, this is all Al-Jazeera could come up with — the stupid bragging of two junior aides with close to zero influence.” Of course, as Pollard must know very well, the clip of Shai Masot discussing with a former aide to Robert Halfon, the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel and co-founder of the influential Henry Jackson Society think tank, wasn’t all that the Qatar-based media giant came up with; far from it, in fact. Pollard’s pomposity was his attempt at damage limitation.

The full documentary ran to a little short of two hours, and detailed how the Israeli Embassy was providing covert assistance to supposedly independent groups within the Labour Party; how jobs at the embassy were being offered to groom young Labour activists; and how concerned the embassy was with removing not just Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan, but also Crispin Blunt MP, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (both of whom are Conservative MPs), as well as Jeremy Corbyn MP, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. (Without a trace of irony, a “related story” was advertised next to Pollard’s rebuke entitled, “Concern as Alan Duncan Gets FCO Post” and dated July 2016.) David Aaronovitch wrote for the JC that Al-Jazeera had claimed that the lobby was “uniquely effective” and “uniquely powerful,” when the documentary makers had not, in fact, made any such claim. Perhaps the only element of his analysis that was correct was that Shai Masot was clearly incompetent.

What Masot did was clearly wrong, which is why he has been forced to resign and leave the country. It is also why the Israeli ambassador felt obliged to apologise to the British government and distance himself from Masot and his statements. Yet there was one intriguing section of the undercover video sections of the documentary which revealed something more; not a conspiracy, but psychosis.

Joan Ryan, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, was filmed talking with a pro-Palestinian activist who seemed genuinely interested in how LFI’s support for a two-state solution was manifesting itself. Ryan soon tired of this questioning, possibly because there is no convincing response you can give when LFI’s political position is to support a two-state solution, while also supporting a state which is not interested in a two-state solution. Eventually, the activist, whose life has no doubt been ruined by the accusation which came next, asked what was being done with the influence that LFI has. It was a reasonable question, but you could almost see Ryan’s eyes light up in anticipation. Was the activist, who wore a Palestine Solidarity Campaign lanyard, about to conform to the stereotype that Ryan no doubt already held about her?

The MP for Enfield North told her this was an “anti-Semitic trope,” and then began alleging to colleagues in private and public that the activist had suggested that working at LFI would later get you a job in banking. She had actually said nothing of the sort; she had simply related the true story that her friend’s son had got a job at LFI and then got a job at Oxford University, which is not a financial institution. As the filming wore on, you could almost see the idea turning over in Ryan’s head; a fiction that she was, no doubt, unaware her imagination was creating for her.

So convinced was Ryan that she had just witnessed anti-Semitism that she convinced her parliamentary assistant to provide testimony for an official complaint to the Labour Party. The undercover filming demonstrated clearly that he wasn’t sure whether the comments were anti-Semitic or not, but he decided to go along with it anyway. The filming then revealed a discussion with the director of Labour Friends of Israel, who said that she too wasn’t sure whether the incident was anti-Semitic or not.

It is this refusal to give Palestinian activists the benefit of the doubt, and to leap upon every possible instance of a possible hint of a possible smell of a possible whiff of a possible indicator of anti-Semitism, that puts these Labour activists in a different category to Masot. He was acting malevolently, and they were acting benevolently, hard as that may be to accept. They honestly believe that they are protecting the world against anti-Semites, but because of this psychological urgency, so keen has their smell for anti-Semitism become that they “scrape the barrel,” as Israeli historian Ilan Pappé put it so well, to ensure that their psychological affliction is fulfilled. They are so addicted to the idea that pro-Palestinian activists are anti-Semitic, that I think they must honestly believe that they all, indeed, are.

I don’t know what the answer is to what is, after all, simply an observation. How can you deal with those pro-Israel activists who are not conspiring to smear people as anti-Semites, but who imagine anti-Semitism where it simply does not exist? It’s yet another problem for the pro-Palestinian side to grapple with. Contrary to the Jewish Chronicle’s claims, Al-Jazeera exposed much more than a single Israeli Embassy employee’s misconduct; much, much more.

ArticleEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestineUK
  • Fasdunkle

    Embassy being an embassy
    Lobby groups lobbying
    A minor figure boasting over a drink


    • scorpion

      A MOSSAD asset more likely! lobbying does’t include trying to remove a member of a government down though, not even in the la la la and you live in!!

      • Fasdunkle

        It wasn’t Embassy policy to remove a member of parliament

        • Scottishchap

          Sure, it just happened to come out of the Israeli embassy where he was senior political officer and he was making clear proposals to take out the deputy to Britain’s Foreign Secretary. But you know all this as well as I do.
          Fasdunkle being Fasdunkle.
          Israel being Israel.
          Hasbara being damage limitation.

          • Fasdunkle

            Have you watched the programmes?

          • Scottishchap


          • Fasdunkle

            Then you will know what a fuss about nothing they are.

          • Scottishchap

            I know that if an agent of MI5 had been caught plotting to take down Tzipiz Hotovely, Benjamin Netanyahu would have gone ballistic and called in the UK Ambassador (just as he had the gall to do to countries that legitimately voted for the UNSC resolution condemning Israeli settlements).

            That would have been a legitimate response for Boris Johnson when confronted by Israel’s attempt to suborn the British diplomatic process. The problem is that there was not a fuss from the British government about criminal meddling in British internal affairs by a foreign agent working for an Asian apartheid government.

          • Fasdunkle

            An agent of MI5?

            There is no evidence whatsoever of “Israel’s attempt to suborn the British diplomatic process”

          • Scottishchap

            Typo. Should have read ‘democratic’ process.

            And if you can’t buy into that I suggest you actually watch the programme.

          • Fasdunkle

            I have watched it, there is no evidence whatsoever of Israel’s attempt to suborn the democratic process.

          • Scottishchap

            A senior political officer from the Israeli embassy (who happens also to be an ex Major in the Tsahal and current executive in the Directorate of Strategic Affairs) plots the removal of a Foreign Office minister in a democratically elected government because the minister has said things that the government of Israel disapproves of.
            1) Just how do you describe that?
            2) How would you describe it if it had been a British political officer at the Tel Aviv embassy plotting the removal of Tzipiz Hotovely?

          • Fasdunkle

            He had no power to do anything. The Israeli embassy said they didn’t support his claims. It’s a non story

          • Scottishchap

            What do you expect them to do, say ‘it’s a fair cop guv’? Of course they deny it. Regev’s one of the biggest liars on this planet. (And incidentally this is the first time ever I can recall that man apologising for ANYTHING linked to the state of Israel.)
            Fact is that this senior officer, who as shown on the film, has regular contact with the Ambassador and is probably answerable DIRECTLY to Regev, was running their outside support groups such as their anti BDS campaign, coordinating with students, MPs, activists, parliamentary assistants, city supporters and others, and is seen actively trying to neuter senior politicians opposed to Israeli human rights abuses. He gets one bernie, a cool million quid, for just one part of his campaign, suggesting that his overall budget extends to many millions, and you say he has no power to do anything! You’re the non-story here, with this cloud cuckoo fable you are trying to concoct.

          • Fasdunkle

            Seems to me he was doing his job.

            Al Jazeera is owned by the apartheid state of Qatar – a state which funds BDS, do you oppose Qatar trying to suborn Israeli democracy?

          • scorpion

            Probably believes in unicorns too!!

  • Tortoise Apache

    Al Jazeera carried out this investigation in the hopes they would find much worse from the Israeli Embassy. Many think that Zionists run the world and Al Jazeera hoped to prove it… but they didn’t.

    You can’t blame an embassy for promoting its own country. Pro-Israel groups are going to work with the embassy. And no, a junior staff member talking naively/arrogantly over drinks is not “Israel meddling in UK politics”.

    It’s time to get over this non-story.