The Israeli embassy has apologised to UK deputy foreign secretary Sir Alan Duncan for comments made by one of its staff members on plans “to take [him] down” due to his criticism of Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
The comments, made by a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy Shai Masot, were secretly captured on film during a six-month undercover operation by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, which reveals plots by the Israeli diplomat and a British civil servant to destroy the careers of senior politicians.
In a conversation with Maria Strizzolo, who was then chief of staff to MP Robert Halfon, the deputy chairman of the ruling Conservative Party, Masot asked her if he could give her some names of MPs he would suggest she “take down”.
Masot named Duncan, who in 2014 said that while he fully supports Israel’s right to exist, he believes settlements on occupied Palestinian land represent an “ever-deepening stain on the face of the globe”. He also likened the situation in Hebron in the occupied West Bank to apartheid.
Strizzolo later hinted that “a little scandal” might see Duncan dismissed.
At the same dinner table conversation, Masot described British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Duncan’s boss, as an “idiot … without any kind of responsibilities”, while Strizzolo said he was “solid on Israel”.
Since the announcement by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit of its findings – and the international media coverage that followed – the Israeli embassy tweeted a response saying that Masot would be “ending his term shortly”, adding that Mark Regev, ambassador of Israel to the UK, had apologised to Duncan “and made clear that the embassy considered the remarks to be completely unacceptable”.
But this latest disclosure is just one among the Investigative Unit’s many findings, which will be revealed in a four-part series “The Lobby” that will be broadcast daily on Al Jazeera from January 11 at 22:30 GMT.
The undercover investigation reveals how the Israeli government is in the midst of a brazen, covert influence campaign in Britain.
For half a year, Robin (alias), an undercover reporter working with Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, met with members of Britain’s lobby network that enjoys strong support from the Israeli government by way of the Israeli embassy in London.
Robin posed as a graduate activist with strong sympathies towards Israel who was eager to help combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement prominent in Britain.
Shaping foreign policy agenda
Strizzolo, while advising Robin, revealed that she had a strategy of manipulation to ensure Israel remains at the top of the UK’s foreign policy agenda.
“If at least you can get a small group of MPs that you know you can always rely on, when there is something coming to parliament and you know you brief them, 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’,” she said.
She also advised trying to infiltrate Prime Minster’s Questions, a weekly session in which the leader of the country answers questions from MPs. The debate is televised live.
“If they already have the question to table for PMQs [Prime Minister’s Questions], it’s harder to say: ‘No, no, no, I won’t do it’,” she said.
Strizzolo then boasted how her own efforts once made an immediate effect on the national debate.
While in Israel with the Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary group in 2014, she persuaded MP Halfon to question the prime minster in public over three missing teenagers believed to have been kidnapped and murdered “to get a response from the government”, Strizzolo said.
Halfon took the request and called on former prime minister David Cameron to support the Israeli government, which he said should do “everything possible to take out Hamas terrorist networks”.
In response, Cameron promised that Britain would “stand by Israel”.
Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” can be viewed on Al Jazeera at the following times:
Episode One – Wednesday, January 11, 22:30 GMT
Episode Two – Thursday, January 12, 22:30 GMT
Episode Three – Friday, January 13, 22:30 GMT
Episode Four – Saturday, January 14, 22:30 GMT
The series will also be available online.