The article from Al Jazeera is followed by a response from student paper The Mancunian.
Young supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election, listen to speeches at Rock Tower in London Sept. 10, 2015. Photo by Getty Images
Israeli embassy influencing students and founding youth groups in main parties, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit reveals.
By Al Jazeera Investigative Unit
January 11, 2017
Israel is influencing student, activist and parliamentary groups in the UK, offering financial and strategic assistance in order to gather support among young organisers and shape British politics, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit reveals.
For six months, undercover reporter Robin (an alias) infiltrated pro-Israeli groups working to counter the powerful and growing movement against the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
He uncovered a close link between Shai Masot, whose business card described him as a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, and a network of politicians, activists and analysts in Britain who are sympathetic to Israel.
The aggressive lobbying comes as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement swells, and as the opposition Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a vocal supporter of Palestinian interests.
BDS enjoys wide support at British universities; in June 2015 the National Union of Students (NUS) voted for the boycott.
A year later the NUS elected its first black, Muslim, female president: Malia Bouattia – a pro-Palestinian human rights supporter.
Unlike the NUS, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) comprising 64 Jewish societies at British universities, strongly opposes the BDS movement.
Plotting against NUS president
Michael Rubin, former chair of Labour students, involved in plotting to bring down ‘really bad’ NUS president Malia Bouattia
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit discovered that the UJS not only received money from the Israeli embassy, but also attempted to influence the NUS presidency election, and even oust Bouattia following her victory.
Michael Rubin, a young parliamentary officer and pro-Israel activist who claimed to work “with the ambassador and embassy quite a lot”, told Robin that Bouattia was “really bad” and “awful”.
“We were campaigning for the person running against her because we didn’t want her to win,” said Rubin, who was at the time of the election chairman of the Labour Students group.
During the election campaign, Richard Brooks [above], NUS vice president, held “secret” meetings with Russell Langer, UJS campaign director, and Rubin.
“We’d have our secret little purpose meeting where we’d plan how to get moderate people with good politics and any number of things elected to certain places,” he said, adding that the group worked “quite closely together”.
Robin explored with Brooks the possibility of ousting Bouattia.
Malia Bouattia. Photo by Al Jazeera
“You can speak to me because I’m helping organise them,” said Brooks, who once took the unusual step of criticising the NUS president on national radio.
The investigation also reveals that the UJS sent Brooks on a paid trip to Israel, something he failed to mention in his radio interview.
The NUS represents more than four million students.
Notable politicians who have served as NUS leader include Labour politicians Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary and Charles Clarke, a former home secretary.
Elsewhere, Adam Schapira, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the UJS presidency, told our undercover reporter: “The Israeli embassy in the UK gives money to UJS.”
Schapira earlier worked with the Pinsker Centre, a campus-based think-tank which aims to “intelligently educate about Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict”.
Schapira confirmed to our reporter that the powerful American pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, is channelling money to British campuses through the Pinsker Centre.
“Groups like AIPAC gave some money,” he said.
Such groups work hard to counter the BDS movement, which is modelled after the mass campaign to isolate South Africa during the apartheid era, and aims to pressure Israel through tactics of economic and cultural isolation.
Labour in focus
Chairwoman of Labour Friends of Israel Joan Ryan. She speaks to Israeli plotter Masot ‘most days’.
Throughout the investigation, Robin posed as a graduate activist with strong sympathies towards Israel who was keen to help combat the BDS movement.
Masot, the Israeli embassy diplomat, insisted to Robin that it was particularly important for him to build support for Israel among all levels of the Labour Party, which he said was being run by “crazy” leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn.
At one point, he offered Robin a job running the youth wing of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).
In a discussion at a Tube station, Robin asked Masot: “Have you ever built something, like a group?”
Masot replied: “In Israel and here … Nothing that I can share but yeah. It’s good to leave those organisations independent, but we help them to actually [establish].”
Masot tutored Robin step-by-step on how to set up a new pro-Israel group, and offered the embassy’s support in securing an “interesting speaker” at events.
Conservatives don’t need pro-Israel education
The Israeli diplomat boasted that he had the idea to form a youth branch of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) – an offshoot of the 2,000-member strong group – that was realised last year.
LFI and CFI were founded in the 1950s and 1970s respectively.
“[But] there’s no one who’s educating the grassroots of the party … Specifically in the Labour. Conservatives don’t need it,” Masot told Robin.
In a further attempt to influence the opposition, Masot said that he was involved with the youth arm of the Fabian Society, an influential Labour Party think-tank, and that he once “took a group of Fabians to Israel”.
Dr Martin Edobor, NHS doctor and National Chair of the Young Fabians, the under-31 section of the Fabian Society
One “Fabian”, Martin Edobor, later told Robin in a London pub that Masot was “a great guy”.
Edobor added that he had been on a delegation to Israel, and dismissed a recent story in Haaretz about Israel cutting water supply in the occupied West Bank as “false” and “propaganda”.
On its website, the Fabian Society says it is “a pluralist movement to create space for open debate” which believes “in the fight against inequality”.
L, Michael Freeman, Israeli embassy
Later, in a private meeting at a London hotel with embassy staff and British supporters of Israel, Masot introduced Robin to Michael Freeman, head of civil affairs at the Israeli embassy.
Freeman told Robin that the embassy was looking for someone to “research into the different BDS movements, who they are, what they are”, before Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, took to the stage as guest of honour.
Erdan’s ministry’s main task is to counter the BDS movement worldwide
According to Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist and writer who specialises in security and intelligence affairs, the ministry recruits “mainly former intelligence officers”.
Masot, who is well-connected, then suggested that Robin contact Rubin, the parliamentary officer, for advice on establishing a new group. Rubin told our undercover reporter that Labour MP and LFI chairwoman Joan Ryan spoke with Masot “most days”.
“The Labour Party at the moment is not in a good place to say the least,” Rubin said, as he advised Robin to befriend “young people coming through who have … good views on Israel”.
Regarding the Young LFI group, Rubin said:
“I think we just have to be careful that not to be seen as ‘young Israeli embassy’ … We do work really closely together, it’s just publicly we just try to keep LFI as a separate identity to the embassy of course. Being LFI allows us to reach out to people who wouldn’t want to get involved with the embassy. Ultimately we want the same end goal of getting more people to be pro-Israel and understand the conflict.”
Ben White, a researcher and journalist who has written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told Al Jazeera that Israel increasingly seeks to influence British politicians as fears over the BDS movement grow.
“We know that the Israeli foreign ministry – and also interestingly the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs, which it actually seemed that this individual [Masot] is an employee of – are very focused on fighting what they see as dangerous, powerful, solidarity activism, with particular focus on trying to thwart and undermine BDS campaign,” said White.
EPISODE 1: YOUNG FRIENDS OF ISRAEL
• Israeli diplomat boasts of role in establishing pro-Israel groups
• Investigation reveals Israel offers financial, strategic support to UK lobby
• Students targeted to boost support for Israel amid BDS movement
• Groups attempting to oust NUS leader Malia Bouattia
• ‘Pluralist’ Fabian Society think-tank analysts sent on paid trips to Israel
Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” can be viewed on Al Jazeera at the following times:
Episode One: Young Friends of Israel – Wednesday, January 11, 22:30 GMT
Episode Two: The Training Session – Thursday, January 12, 22:30 GMT
Episode Three: The Anti-Semitic Trope – Friday, January 13, 22:30 GMT
Episode Four: The Takedown – Saturday, January 14, 22:30 GMT
The series will also be available online.
An NUS Vice-President was filmed by an undercover Al Jazeera reporter admitting that he was involved in organising groups working against the NUS President Malia Bouattia
By Jenny Sterne, Mancunian
January 11, 2017
Richard Brooks, the National Union of Students’ (NUS) Vice-President, has been implicated in an attempted plot to oust Malia Bouattia, as revealed by an undercover Al Jazeera investigation.
Brooks was secretly filmed by the undercover reporter, claiming that he played a significant role in attempts to undermine Bouattia.
The undercover reporter claimed to be a political activist linked to Shai Masot, the Israeli diplomat who was caught out prior to these revelations plotting to “take down” MPs he viewed as hostile to Israel.
When asked if Brooks knew how to get in touch with people who opposed Bouattia, Brooks told the reporter, he could “speak to me, because I’ve been organising them”.
The investigation by Al Jazeera also revealed that Brooks had visited Israel on a trip paid for by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and alleges that Brooks was involved in secret meetings prior to Bouattia’s election with Russel Langer, the UJS campaign director.
Secret meetings, Russel Langer, the UJS campaign director.
According to the Al Jazeera investigation, Michael Rubin, who at the time of Bouattia’s election was National Chair of Labour students, told them that in secret meetings with Brooks they would plan “how to get moderate people with good politics and any number of things elected to certain places.”
He also told the reporter that he worked “with the ambassador and embassy quite a lot” and stated that Bouattia was “really bad” and “awful”.
Bouattia has been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, often referencing her description of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost”.
A report published last year by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee claimed that Bouattia “does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of anti-Semitism on campus”.
In response to these allegations, many involved in the NUS have tweeted their responses, including Hareem Ghani, Women’s Officer for the NUS who stated: “Just going to say it as it is, I’ve never been so disappointed work for this organisation [sic]. Solidarity to @MaliaBouattia.”
Richard Brooks however called the claims “wrong and offensive”, tweeting his response in which he states: “It’s no surprise to anybody who knows me, or has heard me speak publicly, that myself and Malia don’t see eye to eye… It’s therefore not a shock or an exposé that I politically organise against what I think to be an ineffectual and damaging Presidency for Students’ Unions and students.”
He added that he was “proud to stand with UJS in ensuring everyone feels they have voiced in our open, inclusive, democratic debates”.
However he claims to have never met, to his knowledge, someone from the Israeli Government, instead arguing that “the ‘exposé’ documentary shows me saying that I do politics and disagree with the far left. None of these thing [sic] are surprises.”
The Campaigns Director for UJS, Josh Nagli said in a Facebook post that, “our work taking student leaders to Israel and Palestine is not secret, it’s even mentioned on UJS’ Wikipedia page, and the fact that some participants choose not to broadcast their experiences reflects the toxic nature of student politics”.
He added that “the insidious suggestion that Jewish students — or Jews in Britain more broadly — slavishly support specific government policies or actions, conspire with or take direction from Israeli officials, is grossly offensive”.
When asked for a statement on the allegations, an NUS spokesperson told The Mancunion the “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”.
The revelations surrounding Richard Brooks were not the only Israeli influence within the student movement uncovered by the six month investigation. The undercover reporter alleges that the Israeli embassy is influencing students and founding youth groups in an attempt to infiltrate the UK student movement.
The reporter was offered support by Israeli diplomat Masot to set up a new pro-Israel group. Masot boasted to the reporter that he had been involved in setting up a youth branch of Conservative Friends of Israel and was involved in the youth arm of the Fabian Society, a Labour party think-tank.
He offered the reporter a job running the youth wing of Labour Friends of Israel, as “there’s no-one who’s educating the grassroots of the party… Specifically in the Labour. Conservatives don’t need it.”
The Israeli Embassy released a statement when Masot’s remarks concerning hostile MP’s were released, apologising for his comments and stating that he would be “ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly”.
The Mancunion has contacted the Israeli Embassy for a further statement about these allegations, and has reached out to Malia Bouattia and the Union of Jewish Students for comments.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
LINKS See also