Labour pro-Israel group distances itself from disgraced Israeli embassy official Shai Masot

Former government minister also calls for full inquiry into Israeli embassy and activities of pro-Israel groups

Will Worley
Monday 09 January 2017 15:29 GMT
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The Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) group has hit back at suggestions it was influenced by an official from the Israeli Embassy and said he was “exaggerating his role”.

The official, Shai Masot, was recorded talking to an undercover reporter about a new youth wing the LFI was aiming to establish.

Mr Masot suggested the journalist could take a leading role in the organisation and encourage him to think about what he could do in it.

He also discussed working with political groups in the UK which were supposedly independent, but said he couldn’t “share” who they were.

It came after a former minister in David Cameron’s government said both the LFI and Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) worked with the Israeli government in London “to promote Israeli policy and thwart UK Government policy and the actions of Ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights”.

While numerous MPs are members of both the LFI and CFI, they are not official parliamentary bodies.

However, the LFI have now distanced themselves from Mr Masot.

A spokesperson for the group told The Independent: "It is clear from these recordings that Mr Masot was exaggerating his role and pretending to have influence he absolutely did not have.

“He was told clearly by LFI that any young LFI grouping would be organised by us, not by the Embassy. Although Mr Masot mentioned the idea of financially supporting a launch event this was turned down by LFI. 'Robin Harrow’ was never the chair of Young LFI. There is no such post and Mr Masot was told clearly not to refer to him as such.”

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However, the LFI said it did work with the Israeli embassy: “As part of our advocacy of a two-state solution, we work alongside many organisations, both Israeli and Palestinian.

“Among those we work with is the Embassy of the State of Israel, and indeed, Ambassador Mark Regev spoke at our Annual Reception at Labour party conference and our Annual Lunch in November.”

Mr Masot also spoke with civil servant Maria Strizzolo, a recently-resigned aide to Education Minister Robert Halfon, about “taking down” Deputy Foreign Secretary Alan Duncan, who has criticised the Israeli government’s settlement policy.

The position of Mr Masot, a former naval officer, was reported as being a political officer in the Israeli embassy in London and he portrayed himself as close to Ambassador Mark Regev.

However, the embassy has since downplayed Mr Masot’s position to that of a "junior employee".

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His actions led a former government Minister to call for a “full inquiry” into the Israeli embassy’s influence and the funding, access and connections of pro-Israeli British political groups.

Writing anonymously in the Mail on Sunday for fear of being “subjected to a relentless barrage of abuse and character assassination”, the politician said: “British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics, and those in authority have ignored what is going on.”

He took aim at the conservative lobby, saying: “The CFI is not affiliated to the Conservative Party. It is incorporated in a way that means it is not transparent about donors. Yet it arranges for the support of MPs and funds regular visits to Israel which distort the truth.”

The occupation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlements is a particular issue of contention for the former minister, who wrote that it is ignored by ministers because of funding concerns.

“[David] Cameron turned a blind eye to Israeli misconduct – if he ever cared about it – because he was persuaded any criticism would reduce Party donations.”

The former minister continued: “It now seems clear people in the Conservative and Labour Parties have been working with the Israeli embassy which has used them to demonise and trash MPs who criticise Israel; an army of Israel’s useful idiots in Parliament.

“This is politically corrupt, and diplomatically indefensible. The conduct of certain MPs needs to be exposed as the poisonous and deceitful infiltration of our politics by the unwitting agents of another country.”

The minister called for a “full inquiry” into the workings of these groups and the Israeli embassy and said the “opaque funding and underhand conduct is a national disgrace and humiliation and must be stamped out”.

The Labour party have also demanded an inquiry. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said it considers the matter "closed".

Ambassador Regev has apologised and said it was not the view of the Israeli embassy or government that Sir Alan was causing "a lot of problems".

A statement released by the Israeli embassy said: "The Embassy of Israel rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable; the comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and whose employment with the embassy has terminated."

The CFI have not responded to a request for comment by The Independent.

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