The Al Jazeera television channel has revealed an Israeli plan to destroy the careers of senior British government figures because they have been critical of Israel. Shai Masot, a senior official in the Israeli embassy in London, was recorded by an Al Jazeera undercover reporter in conversation in a London restaurant with Ms Maria Strizzolo, formerly chief of staff to the British government’s ‘minister of state for skills’, Robert Halfon, the past political director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, who has a colourful history.
Shai Masot (right, with the Israeli Ambassador at the British Labour Party Conference in 2016)
In one of the exchanges between Ms Strizzolo and Mr Masot, he is recorded as asking her ‘Can I give you some [names of] MPs [Members of Parliament] that I would suggest you take down?’ to which Ms Strizzolo replied that all MPs have ‘something they’re trying to hide.’ (The expression ‘take-down’ is defined as ‘a wrestling manoeuvre in which an opponent is swiftly brought to the mat from a standing position,’ but in this context has more disturbing connotations.)
Mr Masot speaking with Ms Strizzolo
Mr Masot then told her ‘I have some MPs’ and specified ‘the deputy foreign minister,’ Sir Alan Duncan, who has been critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. According to transcripts of the meeting, Strizzolo implied that ‘a little scandal’ might result in Duncan being dismissed, and added ‘don’t tell anyone about this meeting,’ which was clear indication that she knew it was clandestine and involved sensitive matters.
It was not surprising that Ms Strizzolo resigned her position following disclosure of her agenda — but first she tried to lie her way out of the affair, as is usual for such people.
In answer to a reporter’s questions she claimed her conversation with Masot was ‘tongue-in-cheek and gossipy... Any suggestion that I could exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible.’ She declared that Mr Masot ‘is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context.’ This was strange, coming from a person who was recorded as saying she could help Israel because ‘If at least you can get a small group of MPs that you know you can always rely on... you say: ‘you don't have to do anything, we are going to give you the speech, we are going to give you all the information, we are going to do everything for you’.’
Pronouncements of innocence did not end with Ms Strizzolo’s assertion of virtue, and the Israeli Embassy declared that ‘the comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly.’
This so-called ‘junior embassy employee’ describes himself as ‘a Senior Political Officer’ on his business card, and his social media page states he is ‘the chief point of contact between the embassy and MPs and liaising with ministers and officials at the Foreign Office’ which indicates that he is responsible for dealing with influential representatives of his host country.
It is bizarre to state that Mr Masot would explore methods of ‘taking down’ British government ministers without authorisation from a very high level.
Masot told Joan Ryan, a Member of Parliament and Chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), that he had plans for ‘another delegation of LFI activists’ to visit Israel and Ms Ryan said ‘That’d be good. What happened with the names we put in to the embassy, Shai?’ To which Masot replied ‘We’ve got the money, more than a million pounds, it’s a lot of money... I have got it from Israel. It is an approval.’
Israelis don’t spend a million pounds for nothing.
Predictably, Ms Ryan said the filmed revelations are ‘rubbish,’ but the Al Jazeera recording provides undeniable evidence of her involvement in chicanery as well as an Israeli scheme to interfere even more directly in the domestic politics of the United Kingdom.
It cannot be denied that an official of the Israeli Embassy in London collaborated with a British government employee who worked for a pro-Israeli Member of Parliament in order to attempt to destroy the reputation of a British government Minister. Yet the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose Minister of State (in effect the deputy foreign minister) was the person specifically targeted for a campaign of Israeli-British denigration — quickly stated that ‘The Israeli Ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel. The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.’
And that is that. There will be no action by the British government, in spite of Mr Masot reflecting amusingly, and no doubt to the approval of Ms Strizzolo and much of the British public, that the Foreign Minister himself, Mr Boris Johnson, ‘is an idiot with no responsibilities.’
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is entirely pro-Israel, as demonstrated by her criticism of departing US Secretary of State John Kerry who described the Israeli government as the ‘most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.’ He was perfectly correct, but Mrs May scolded him and pleased the Israeli government by stating that she does ‘not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally.’
The Conservative and Labour and all the other Friends of Israel have worked their magic in Britain, as does the enormously powerful Israeli lobby in the United States, and the Al Jazeera revelations were only a one-day-wonder in the West.
The Matter is Closed.
But imagine the outcry if there had been reports concerning such actions in London (or Washington) by a representative of any nation other than Israel.
If a Russian diplomat in the capital of any Western country had tried to engage in underhand antics like Israel’s ‘Senior Political Officer’ in London there would be massive journalistic fandangos in American and British media. The West’s television channels would be near meltdown with hysterical condemnation of the threat to democracy and there would be prolonged and frenzied anti-Russian outbursts in their halls of government.
But when Israel schemes to ‘take down’ a respected British Government minister with the assistance of a British government official, and the Israeli ambassador apologises for being found out, the British ignore insult, injury, contempt and condescension, and declare that ‘The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.’
It is amazing what money can buy.
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Afterword: The first of four Al Jazeera Investigative Unit's ‘The Lobby’ will go on air at 10.30 pm GMT on Wednesday 11 January. This will be followed by episodes at the same time for the next three days.