An undercover investigation by Al Jazeera has exposed the extent to which Israel seems to be fighting the propaganda war in the UK. An undercover reporter (‘Robin’, male, white, Germanic) posed as a student and aspiring politician with pro-Israel views and was able to gain the confidence of the Israeli embassy’s senior political officer (Shai Morat) who was active in this propaganda effort.
In a series of four reports (aired in mid January) which used secret recordings of meetings and conversations — with this embassy official as well as other individuals active in this initiative — the Al Jazeera investigation lays bare the aggressive and organised nature of this drive to influence public opinion and silence anybody daring to express views sympathetic to the Palestinians or critical of Israeli policy.
The investigation indicates that the main purpose of these efforts is to defeat and neutralise the recently galvanised global movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for imposing economic and political sanctions on Israel.
Apart from BDS, anybody expressing a view supportive of the Palestinian cause also seems to be perceived by this network as an enemy. Top of this list are perhaps Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party and Mallia Bouattia, the president of the National Union of Students. Bouattia is the first female, black, Muslim head of the Union. The secret filming contains negative remarks about her by one of her own vice presidents, a young man who even lambasted her in a national radio interview for her stance on Israel, completely omitting any mention of support and junkets bestowed upon him through Israel’s London embassy.
It’s actually very interesting to hear the sort of language used by the people in the films who are being patronised by the Israelis. They use the word ‘balance’ and ‘balanced’ a lot when they speak about the Israelis and ‘lies’ and ‘lying’ often when speaking of critics of Israel.
Apart from students, government officials and politicians are also revealed to be part of this network of patronage overseen by the Israeli embassy’s chief political officer. In one fascinating conversation over dinner, this official speaks about which UK ministers need ‘to be taken down’ and specifically singles out the British deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan.
The remarks about the minister created enough of an outrage for the Israelis to act as if they too considered it an outrage. The official resigned and, as happens in such cases, the Israeli ambassador distanced himself completely from the official. Some people then raised questions like ‘how many British MPs are working for Israel?’ and (as pointed out in a Guardian editorial) “a British minister writing anonymously, to protect himself from abuse and character assassination claimed that Britain’s politicians had submitted to lobbying, taken donors’ money and allowed Israeli influence peddling to shape policy and even determine the fate of ministers.”
The person to whom the taking down remarks was addressed also resigned as a consequence of the undercover footage — she was an official in the education department and a former parliamentary assistant named Maria Strizzolo.
The undercover footage also exposes how the accusation of ‘anti-semitism’ has been used as a big stick to bludgeon anybody daring to question Israel. As an Israeli journalist points out in the reports, this is done by conflating criticism of the Israeli state with actual racial and ethnic prejudice and hatred directed against Jewish people. The recorded instances of this sort of witch hunt within the Labour Party are a master class in how to manipulate and completely twist other people’s words and meaning.
This is an impressive investigation and these Al Jazeera reports are well worth watching. They are troubling yes, but also very illuminating.