What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal

There has been a great deal of media and US Congress clamor about a supposed Russian intelligence operation involving Donald Trump.  Documents provided by Senator John McCain alleged among other matters that The Donald had been involved in naughty antics while on a trip to Russia, and the usual suspects feigned shock and horror at the allegations.

The BBC reported that “the latest — and perhaps most headline-grabbing — source of tension between Donald Trump and the US intelligence community is an unverified report, apparently compiled by a private intelligence firm, claiming Russia has gathered compromising data about the president-elect.”  The thing is a storm in a teacup — a bit like the Clinton emails non-event — but that won’t stop it being spun out by the US mainstream media which is smarting from its dismissive treatment by a man they all resent.

(No matter what we might think of The Donald, it’s giggling funny to reflect on the horrified indignation of those formerly unassailable media hacks who have now found themselves in positions of feeble supplication regarding the new White House.)

On the other side of the Atlantic the picture can sometimes be rather different when scandals arise —   be they contrived or genuine — and it is interesting to look at one particularly grubby affair which can’t possibly be denied, yet has been swept under the carpet by a government whose motives for doing so are questionable.

In mid-January the Al Jazeera television channel revealed an Israeli plan to destroy the careers of senior British government figures because they have been critical of Israel.  The evidence is undeniable.

A senior official in the Israeli embassy in London, Shai Masot, was recorded by an Al Jazeera undercover reporter when speaking with Ms Maria Strizzolo, formerly chief of staff to the British Conservative Party government’s ‘minister of state for skills’, Robert Halfon, the past political director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, who has a colorful history.

In an exchange between Ms Strizzolo and Mr Masot in a London restaurant, 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 generally defined as “a wrestling maneuver in which an opponent is swiftly brought to the mat from a standing position,” but in this context is rather more disturbing.)

Mr Masot then told her “I have some MPs” to be taken down, 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 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 the Israeli Embassy’s 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 non-involvement did not end with Ms Strizzolo’s assertion of virtue, and the Israeli Embassy’s official statement was 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 “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 leading representatives of his host country.

It is bizarre to claim that Masot would explore methods of ‘taking down’ British government ministers without authorization from a very high level — just as it is impossible to imagine that his contacts in the British Parliament might be acting entirely of their own accord.

Shai Masot told Joan Ryan, a Labor Party Member of Parliament and Chair of Labor 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 is undeniable evidence of her involvement in chicanery as well as revealing an Israeli scheme to interfere directly in the domestic politics of the United Kingdom.

But there was no follow-up by the British government about this murky meddling.

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.  That is outrageous.

Yet the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose Minister of State (in effect “the deputy foreign minister,” as he was referred to by the Israeli agent who was trying to “take him down”) was the person specifically targeted for a campaign of Israeli-British denigration — quickly stated that “The Israeli Ambassador has apologized 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 President Obama’s 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 pandered to 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.”

All the Friends of Israel — in both the Conservative and Labor parties — have worked their magic in Britain, as has the enormously powerful Israeli lobby in the United States, so it is not surprising that the Al Jazeera revelations of Israel’s wily intrigues were barely mentioned in the Western media.

The Matter is Closed.

If a “Senior Political Officer” in (for example) the Russian embassy in Britain or the United States was detected in such demonstrably underhand antics as undertaken by Israel’s Shai Masot 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 righteously protesting 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 acknowledges being found out, the British government ignores insult, contempt and generously-funded efforts to destroy the career one of its own senior representatives, and declares that  ‘The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.’

It is amazing what money can buy.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.