Britain's Labour Party is facing a legal challenge over its recruitment of former Israeli spy Assaf Kaplan. Leading law firm Bindmans has sent the party a letter on behalf of a British Palestinian member of the party, Adnan Hmidan, demanding answers over the controversial hiring. According to Hmidan, the ex-military intelligence officer's "social listening" role raises "serious concerns" about Labour's position on Palestine, its recruitment process and its data security.
According to the job description, Kaplan's position as the "Social Listening and Organising Manager" puts him in "a crucial new role at the heart of Labour's new approach to digital campaigning". It reportedly involves helping the party track and analyse what is being said about Labour on social media and respond to conversations.
Given Kaplan's background, his recruitment in January by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for such a sensitive role sparked outrage. The Israeli was employed by the notorious Military Intelligence cyberwarfare outfit, Unit 8200, where he reportedly worked for almost five years.
Unit 8200 is no normal spy unit. It is the largest single military unit within the Israel Defence Forces. It is mired in controversy over its surveillance of Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The unit is believed to carry out mass surveillance, blackmail and harassment, targeting the entire Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation.
Bindmans' letter, seen by MEMO, noted Kaplan's involvement within Unit 8200. It recalled allegations made by Israeli whistle-blowers that, "In 2014 (shortly after Mr Kaplan left the Unit), a group of 43 serving and former Unit 8200 reservists (not including Mr Kaplan as far as we are aware) alleged that the Unit had been using coercive spying tactics on innocent Palestinian civilians to obtain information for the purposes of extortion and blackmail."
The letter also mentioned that a former Israeli soldier described the unit as "a dark system that has no limits" and that it was a "tool" that was being used to "keep the people oppressed in order that they don't resist the occupation."
It's unclear what role Kaplan played in his years working for Unit 8200, but he has not denounced its operations or stated his opposition to the Israeli occupation. Instead, the ex-spy has mentioned his involvement openly on social media since leaving the Unit.
"Kaplan worked for Unit 8200 until 2013, just prior to the whistle-blower allegations," said Bindmans. "It is therefore very likely that Mr Kaplan was involved in the unlawful coercive surveillance practices described above or, at the very least, aware of them. Either situation renders Mr Kaplan's current recruitment by the Labour Party untenable."
A further question mark over Kaplan is his friendship with Shia Masot. The former member of staff at the Israeli Embassy in London was filmed in an Al Jazeera documentary discussing how to "takedown" British politicians deemed unfriendly to Israel, including the then foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan.
"Given Mr Kaplan's own background and his links to those who have actively attempted to undermine British democracy and target Palestinians, our client is deeply troubled by the Labour Party's decision to recruit him to a position that would involve monitoring," Bindmans explained.
Highlighting Hmidan's concerns, the letter explained that he is worried that Kaplan's appointment may jeopardise his rights under Britain's data protection laws and the European General Data Protection Regulation. Hmidan claims that Kaplan may retain links to the Israeli military because it operates a system of reserve duty, whereby Israelis who have completed compulsory military service are subsequently assigned to the IDF's reserve forces and can be called upon to rejoin the same units in which they served. This may put him and his family in Palestine at risk, claimed Hmidan.
"The Labour Party's recruitment of a former Israeli army intelligence officer, who may have been involved in unlawful surveillance practices in Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], to a position which involves monitoring the data of its Palestinian members, runs directly contrary to its stated aims of solidarity, tolerance and respect for its Palestinian members," Bindmans continued. "It also contravenes the Labour Party's own public position that the Israeli occupation is unlawful. The Recruitment is therefore inherently unfair, in breach of the Rule Book 2020's stated aims, and unlawful."
The lawyers demanded to know if Kaplan retains links to the IDF, including any through the reserve programme; and to have it confirmed by the party that his appointment is in accordance with Labour's objectives of promoting inclusivity and security for all its members, as set out in the Rule Book 2020.
Warning Labour that it could face further legal challenges, the lawyers said that "In the absence of a satisfactory response, our client will (a) consider litigation in respect of the unfair and unlawful Recruitment, and (b) refer the role and the Recruitment to the Information Commissioner's Office."