Israel embassy scandal: Shai Masot resigns after discussing 'take down' of pro-Palestinian British politicians

NUS investigating claims student movements were ‘influenced’, as Labour calls for inquiry into alleged political interference

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 12 January 2017 17:20
Israeli ambassador apologises after plot to 'take down' minister

An Israeli embassy official at the centre of alleged plots to “influence” British student movements, lobbying groups and politicians has resigned his post.

Officials said Shai Masot would have no further contact with the Ministry for Strategic Affairs in Israel.

“We consider that this scandal is now done and behind us,” a spokesperson for the foreign ministry told Middle East Eye.

Mr Masot listed himself as a senior political officer on his business card but was labelled a “junior employee” by a spokesman after the scandal broke.

Israeli embassy official Shai Masot discussing ‘taking down’ pro-Palestinian MPs at a restaurant in London in October

An undercover investigation by Al Jazeera showed Mr Masot discussing how to “take down” pro-Palestinian MPs, including the Conservative foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan.

Students and campaigners told a reporter posing as a pro-Israel activist they had been given funding and support from Israel’s embassy in London to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

When asked whether he had ever “built a group”, Mr Masot replied: “Yeah, I did several things like that, yeah…in Israel and here. Nothing I can share but yeah.

“It’s good to leave those organisations independent, but we help them actually.”

The National Union of Students said it was investigating alleged attempts to influence last year’s leadership election, which saw its first black, Muslim, female president Malia Bouattia voted in.

Following claims that opposing NUS members held “secret meetings” with activists supported by the Israeli embassy, a spokesperson for the union said: “NUS takes these allegations seriously. We are looking into them and, when we have all the information available, the behaviour of NUS officers will be reviewed and appropriate action taken.”

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary, called for an inquiry into the investigation, which included footage of Mr Masot calling Jeremy Corbyn “a crazy leader” and discussing failed attempts to set up a young friends of Israel group within the party.

“Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved,” she said.

“This is a national security issue…the Government should launch an immediate inquiry into the extent of this improper interference and demand from the Israeli government that it be brought to an end.”

Members of the Labour Friends of Israel hit back at suggestions it had been influenced, saying Mr Masot had been “exaggerating his role”.

Mr Masot resigned swiftly after the first clip from Al Jazeera’s four-part investigation was released late on Saturday night.

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy told The Independent he stepped down at the beginning of the week.

“The Embassy of Israel rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable,” a statement said.

Sir Alan Duncan was targeted after comparing the situation in a West Bank city to apartheid 

“The comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and whose employment with the embassy has terminated.”

Maria Strizzolo, a Tory aide filmed discussing the “take down” with Mr Masot, also resigned her post at the Skills Funding Agency and part-time role as aide to skills minister Robert Halfon.

Commons Speaker John Bercow told MPs that the Houses of Parliament pass available to Ms Strizzolo was in the process of being returned.

The Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, personally apologised to Sir Alan and the Foreign Office said it had accepted that Mr Masot’s “comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel”.

Boris Johnson, who Mr Masot and Ms Strizzolo agreed was “basically solid on Israel” in the undercover footage, also said he considered the row resolved.

“The Israeli ambassador made a very full apology for what had taken place and the gentleman in question, the diplomat in question, no longer seems to be a functionary of the embassy in London,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“Whatever he may exactly have been doing here, his cover can be said to have been well and truly blown. I think we should consider the matter closed.”

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