Fake claims blown apart
Al Jazeera’s The lobby exposes the establishment’s ‘anti-Semitism’ claims for what they are, writes Tony Greenstein
This past week Al Jazeera has broadcast a series of four half-hour programmes - The lobby - about the secretive pro-Israel lobbying taking place in Britain.1 They involved an undercover mole, ‘Robin Harrow’, who became a trusted confidant of leading Zionists in Britain - in particular Shai Masot, the senior political counsellor at the Israeli embassy; Michael Rubin, former chair of Labour Students and now parliamentary officer for Labour Friends of Israel (LFI); Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement; Joan Ryan MP of Labour Friends of Israel; as well as the ghoul of the Labour right, Luke Akehurst.
The background to this is the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign, which began on July 9 2005, when over 170 Palestinian NGOs called for such moves against Israel.2 According to Gilad Erdan, the Israeli public security minister, “Great Britain is the world centre of the anti-Israel BDS campaign.”3 In June 2013 Benjamin Netanyahu gave Israel’s ministry for strategic affairs (MSA) responsibility for fighting BDS.4 Israel’s active management of British Zionist groups began with Israel’s coordination of anti-BDS activities internationally.
Israel’s political classes have been consumed by paranoia over BDS for the past few years. This has resulted in thinly veiled threats to the lives of BDS activists. Erdan is on record as saying: “Soon any activist who uses their influence to delegitimise the only Jewish state in the world will know they will pay a price for it.”
Amnesty International spoke of “an escalation of acts of intimidation by the government and attacks and threats by settlers and other non-state actors”, which “have created an increasingly dangerous environment” for human rights defenders in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.5 At the ‘Stop the Boycott’ Conference held in Jerusalem on March 28 2016, intelligence minister Yisrael Katz called for “sikul ezrachi memukad” against the “BDS leadership”.6 This is the phrase that Israel’s military use for extra-judicial executions.
BDS kicked off in Britain in 2005 with the academic boycott endorsed by the Association of University Teachers. Despite condemnation by Tony Blair and New Labour, it was ratified by the new University and College Union. In 2007 both Unite and Unison, Britain’s two largest trade unions, adopted policy in support of BDS. Yet the simple facts are that economically the effect of BDS has been on the margins. Veolia has pulled out of Israel, G4S is on the brink of doing so, Sodastream has been hard hit and a few Scandinavian investment banks have stopped investing in Israel. There have been other successes, often at a local level, but overall they have been relatively marginal. However, what BDS has done is to focus the anger of groups, such as students, at the continuation of the world’s only active settler colonial and apartheid state. The effect of BDS has been primarily political, not economic, and yet the Israeli government has been paralysed by fear. Is this justified?
Yes and no. While the boycott has made no impact on Israel’s military sales or the vast majority of its trading activities, Israel’s significance for imperialism is not its economic contribution to the western world, important though that has become. Israel’s role has been primarily strategic - a combination of the political and military. Israel is particularly vulnerable to political pressure, because its establishment was dependent on western political support.
Israeli leaders have felt more keenly than most the effect of the end of apartheid in South Africa. This was a serious blow to the Zionists’ confidence. In the words of Hendrik Verwoerd, South African prime minister and one of the architects of apartheid, “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”7 With the loss of South Africa Israel was on its own. One of the characteristics of settler colonialism is its siege mentality and paranoia. This is because settler colonial states are never at ease with themselves. They are artificial nations whose existence is predicated upon the dispossession or oppression of the indigenous population. This is one reason why they can never be normal nation-states, at least until they achieve a ‘final solution’ to the native problem.
The demands of the BDS campaign do not explicitly call for the ending of the Jewish state, but, taken together, they can have no other interpretation.8 The call for an end to the occupation of all Arab lands is ambiguous and can be understood as meaning an end to the post-1967 occupation. However, the demand for the full equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot be squared with the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Although Zionist parties pay lip-service to Palestinian rights, in practice they know that full equality is unattainable. Support for the Right of Return of the refugees ethnically cleansed in 1947-48 and subsequently is wholly incompatible with the maintenance of a Jewish majority state without it being an openly apartheid state.
It is the political - almost psychological - susceptibility of Israel as a Jewish state that lies behind the hostility of the whole Zionist spectrum to BDS. Labour Zionism is equally as hostile to BDS as the far-right Jewish Home. Only at the fringes of the Zionist movement, where liberal Zionism meets non-Zionism, is there support (for boycotting settler goods only).
Role of embassy
At the beginning of November, I spoke to the biannual gathering of the Boycott Israel Network at Coalbrookdale Youth Hostel on the concocted ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, which the Zionists have been waging ever since Jeremy Corbyn stood for leader of the Labour Party. Someone asked me: “What was the role of the Israeli embassy and ambassador Regev in all this?” I replied thus:
I don’t think Mark Regev began it, but certainly he’s involved in it. If you look at it from this perspective, when Corbyn was elected or seemed likely to be elected to the Labour leadership, I imagine panic set in, not just in the Israeli embassy, but the US embassy. Britain is the closest ally of the United States in Europe - the ‘special relationship’; the idea that someone who is anti-Nato, anti-Trident and so on, with his record, I would be amazed if the CIA and the intelligence agencies weren’t doing something. I mean, that’s what they’re paid to do all over the world - why not in Britain? It would be bonkers if they didn’t; they would be failing in their duties, so, yes, of course they have been behind this campaign.9
Anyone who knows anything of the CIA’s destabilisation of governments in central and South America or in Europe with Operation Gladio10 should know that US intelligence organisations have no respect for democratically elected governments.11
Excellent though the work of ‘Robin’ has been as an undercover reporter in the Jewish Labour Movement and with Zionist groups such as Labour Friends of Israel, no-one should be under any illusion that what has been revealed about the Israel lobby is but a snapshot of what has happened. We have no evidence of communications between the Israeli and American embassies on the matter, but it is highly unlikely that the Americans have not been involved at some level. We know little of the depth of cooperation between the Israeli embassy and the Jewish Labour Movement other than that they worked with Shai Masot. But with these caveats the programmes were an excellent eye-opener for those who are born innocent.
Credit should be given to ‘Robin’ for ingratiating himself with key Zionist activists and personnel. It took a lot of skill, but it also depended on their own arrogance. Passing oneself off as a racist is not easy! But it is also testimony to the Zionists’ main weakness - a lack of personnel. Attracting youthful activists to a cause as desperate as that of Israel, to actively supporting a murderous regime steeped in ethnic cleansing, is not an easy task.
What the programmes demonstrate is that Zionist politics in this country are now effectively the British side of the operations of the Israeli state, behind which stands the American state. Although there have always been such connections, it is a recent development that Israel was now in the driving seat.
The fourth programme is most amusing in this respect. It relates how a story appears in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz headlined “Ministries feud over anti-BDS war” - basically an accusation by the foreign ministry that another ministry, the MSA, was in potential breach of British law. Instead of cooperating and working with existing British Zionist groups, it was going further and setting such groups up, effectively interfering in Britain’s own political process. Shai Masot asks for a quiet meeting with Robin, in which he clarifies his own role. He emphasises that he cannot be seen to be in control of anything: “I am irrelevant. If I give you an idea, it’s off the record - it’s not something you can use.” Clearly Masot has been given a strict warning that he is operating at the edge of legality and endangering the whole mission in London. He is worried. Whilst he is always available for advice or resources, he cannot be quoted or seen to be in charge! Masot becomes incoherent and almost pleads for Robin’s understanding. It was a portent of things to come.
The first programme began with a front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday. It revealed that Shai Masot, in a conversation with Robin and Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant and advisor to Robert Halfon MP, minister of state for education, had expressed a desire to “take down” Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s deputy foreign secretary and a known Arabist. When the news broke, ambassador Regev quickly distanced himself from someone he described as a “junior employee” who was not even a diplomat. Masot was thrown under the political bus.
What was even more interesting was the reaction of foreign secretary Boris Johnson. Despite being called an “idiot” who had become “minister of foreign affairs without any responsibilities” - such that “If something real happened it won’t be his fault ... it will be Alan Duncan’s” - Johnson accepted the apology and made it clear that there was going to be no investigation. The only person who resigned was Ms Strizzolo, a Conservative Party activist and ardent Zionist, who responded helpfully to Masot’s desire to bring down Duncan: “A little scandal maybe?” Given Duncan was the first out gay Tory MP, it is not difficult to imagine what she had in mind.12
Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was sacked by Jack Straw for raising that country’s abysmal human rights record and its use of torture,13 raised some interesting questions regarding Shai Masot:
1. On what basis was Masot in the UK?
2. Since he was not on the diplomatic list, but was plainly a senior officer, what precise visa and residence status did he hold?
3. How many more officers does the Israeli embassy have with that same visa and residence status?
4. Has the [foreign and Commonwealth office] connived with the Israeli embassy to allow other Israeli intelligence operatives residence in the country other than those officially credited?
5. Did MI5, MI6 or any other of the security services have any input into Mr Masot’s acceptance and visa/residency status?14
Unsurprisingly Murray has not received any response to his inquiries from the foreign office or Theresa May. There is little doubt that what was a programme adopted by a foreign state aimed at destabilising a British political party had the blessing and was carried out with the active connivance of the government. The fact that a government which is normally so keen to prevent immigration had granted someone who was not a diplomat British residence suggests collusion with the Israeli government’s anti-BDS strategy at the highest level.
It was not difficult to work out that the hand of the Israeli state and MI5/the CIA were behind the ‘anti-Semitism affair’. Why should there be a sudden upsurge of ‘anti-Semitism’ when Corbyn was elected? The fact that such allegations were being levelled at Corbyn himself, when he first stood, should have been a strong indication as to their provenance.15 The fact that people like Jon Lansman gave credence to this campaign should raise questions about their own bona fides.
Although the British press did not entirely ignore the story, most of them downplayed it and soon forgot what was, in essence, an espionage programme run on British soil. Imagine if the Russians had been running secret agents who were infiltrating political parties. It is a sad commentary on the state of the British media - from the quality end to the yellow press - that it was a TV station based in Qatar which broke a story that was begging to be told. The verbosity and carelessness of Shai Masot suggested from the start that he was unlikely to be a member of Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of MI6. He was the political equivalent of the Keystone Cops. It would surely not have been difficult for The Guardian or The Independent to have run a few students in the Jewish Labour Movement, but the will was not there. Jonathan Freedland had already laid down The Guardian’s editorial take on the ‘anti-Semitism’ affair.
Students are one of the key areas of activity for BDS and Palestine solidarity, but in the last year the student movement has been rocked by two things in particular.
The first was the false allegation of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club in January 2016. As Asa Winstanley has shown, those allegations were wholly false and contrived.16 The person who made them at Oxford, Alex Chalmers, left the Labour Party a few weeks later and declared his support for the Liberal Democrats. His LinkedInprofile (before it was deleted!) stated that he had worked for Israel’s main propaganda group in this country, theBritain Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom). The Labour Club’s ‘anti-Semitism’ had consisted of support for Israel Apartheid Week. As the Zionist, Baroness Janet Royall, later commented on a blog on her own investigation on the JLM site: “I know that you will share my disappointment and frustration that the main headline coming out of my inquiry is that there is no institutional anti-Semitism in Oxford University Labour Club.”What kind of political charlatan expresses disappointment that she could find no trace of “institutional anti-Semitism” (whatever that is) in the organisation she was investigating?
The other major event was the election of the first black woman president of the National Union of Students - Malia Bouattia, an open supporter of BDS and anti-imperialism. She was subject to vicious attacks by the bourgeois media, led by the Union of Jewish Students. In June 2015 NUS voted to support BDS.
The UJS received money from the Israeli embassy and attempted first to influence the outcome of the NUS presidency election and then oust Bouattia following her victory. It instigated a disaffiliation campaign, which sank like a damp squib. Oxford University Student Union, despite Alex Chalmers supporting the disaffiliation bid, voted by a margin of 1,000 to remain affiliated to the NUS. Lincoln University, which disaffiliated, has since reversed that decision. Only Hull and Newcastle universities are still disaffiliated.
One key activist in all of this was Michael Rubin, who claimed to work “with the ambassador and embassy quite a lot”. He told ‘Robin’ that Bouattia was “really bad”; she was “awful”. Rubin, who was at the time chair of Labour Students, admitted:“We were campaigning for the person running against her, because we didn’t want her to win.”
During the election campaign, NUS vice-president Richard Brooks 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.” Rubin told ‘Robin’ about those trying to oust Bouattia: “You can speak to me because I’m helping organise them.” The investigation also revealed that the UJS sent Brooks on a paid trip to Israel, which he failed to declare. As a result leftwing and black students in NUS are seeking his removal as a scab agent in the student movement.
Adam Schapira, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the UJS presidency, revealed, as we always suspected, that “The Israeli embassy in the UK gives money to UJS.” Schapira confirmed that the American pro-Israel lobby, Aipac, is also channelling money to British campuses through the pro-Zionist Pinsker Centre.17 What the programme confirms is that Britain is at the epicentre of Zionist and US destabilisation efforts.
There are some highly amusing moments in The lobby. Ella Rose is the director of the Jewish Labour Movement, the main organisation in the Labour Party spearheading the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign. Previously she had worked at the Israeli embassy and before that as chair of UJS. She had sought to keep her work at the embassy a secret, as the JLM did not want its close relationship with it revealed.
When Asa Winstanley broke the story of who her former employer was18 Ella was not happy, and she happened to bump into ‘Robin’ at that time. She is filmed crying, “Fuck you, fuck you. Fucking anti-Semites, the lot of them.” She was in tears over the fact that the truth of her employment had been revealed and she named Winstanley as one of the “fucking anti-Semites”. It would seem that anybody who displeases this spoilt brat is to be defined in that way. For her the normal characteristics of actual anti-Semitism - a belief in Jewish inferiority, in stereotypes, in an international Jewish conspiracy, in the Medieval Blood Libel - are irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is whether or not you support the apartheid state of Israel. If you do, then it is immaterial if you hate Jews as Jews.
Readers can, however, rest assured that Ella recovered soon enough to tell Robin that she had seen Jackie Walker the previous Saturday and “You know what? I could take her. She’s, like, five foot, two inches and tiny.”19 Apparently Rose has trained in the Israeli martial art, Krav Maga. The Jewish Chronicle’s Marcus Dysche interpreted this as Al Jazeera having “embarked on an exercise that is nothing more than straightforward Jew-baiting dressed up as an investigation”.20 In other words classic anti-Semitism - even though the woman that Ella Rose threatened to “take” is herself Jewish!
One of the most interesting parts of the programme was when we saw at Labour Party conference exactly how a fake anti-Semitism incident is manufactured. Jean Fitzpatrick, a conference delegate, comes up to the Labour Friends of Israel stall. She is impressed by their commitment to two states and wants to know more. “What do you actually do to achieve that?” she asks the chair of LFI, Joan Ryan MP, who avoids answering.
Jean Fitzpatrick is a persistent questioner and wants to know exactly what LFI is doing to oppose the settlements, which are an obstacle to a two-state solution. The answer, of course, is nothing. LFI and the Zionist movement in Britain, whilst ostensibly supporting a two-state solution in the abstract does nothing whatsoever to bring such a scenario about. There has never been a single occasion when they have opposed Israel’s occupation, its land theft or crop destruction, its theft of water or any of the other acts that make Israel’s occupation a vicious and bloody one. Two states is a cover for one - apartheid Greater Israel - with the Palestinians kept under permanent military rule.
She also tells Ryan that LFI appears to have “a lot of money” and “a lot of prestige in the world”. She gives the example of her friend’s son, who “got a really good job at Oxford University on the basis of having worked for Labour Friends of Israel”. Apparently this was an “anti-Semitic trope” (Ryan’s words) about rich Jews, bankers and the City of London. In fact she had mentioned none of that, but a complaint was made by Ryan and Jean was suspended. Although she was reinstated after an investigation, it was and is a telling lesson in how fake anti-Semitic incidents are manufactured out of nothing.
Ryan is ideally placed to be the LFI’s chair, by the way. As MP for Enfield North she has demonstrated not only a love for Israel, but a love for parliamentary expenses too. Her much doctored Wikipedia entry states that “In October 2007, the Evening Standard reported that Joan Ryan claimed £173,691 in expenses for the 2006-07 tax year, the highest for any MP. She was the second highest claimant in the 2005-06 tax year.” In February 2010 Ryan was asked to repay £5,121 she had claimed for mortgage interest.21
There is a further section in the entry entitled ‘Accusations of editing Wikipedia from within parliament’. It would appear that Ryan is not exactly happy that her appetite for expenses has been given undue publicity. In 2012, The Independent reported that “At least 10 attempts have been made from computers in parliament to remove information about [Ryan’s] expenses claims and a further 20 efforts were subsequently made to delete the information. During the 2015 general election, the Telegraph reported that “The entire section about expenses on Joan Ryan’s page was deleted. Ms Ryan spent thousands on repairs and decorations at her Enfield home before ‘flipping’ it to another property.”22
Jeremy Corbyn, who up until his election was a strong supporter of the Palestinians, has been worn down by the Zionists’ ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign. Instead of calling out the Zionist JLM for weaponising anti-Semitism in the fight to defend Israel, he has repeatedly stressed he is opposed to anti-Semitism, seeming not to understand that the ‘anti-Semitism’ his opponents were accusing people of had nothing to do with hatred of Jews and everything to do with hatred of the actions of Israel. That is why Corbyn’s words served to appease his critics.
At Labour’s 2016 conference Corbyn abased himself, giving a grovelling speech to LFI, to whom he had never spoken before. Jeremy Newmark’s smug and arrogant comments after Corbyn had spoken said everything about the contempt in which the Zionists hold him: “I can kind of live with that for the time being. It will get us through another year.” Hardly a ringing endorsement, but confirmation that the pro-Zionists have succeeded in subduing Corbyn.
Luke Akehurst, former Labour national executive member who works for ‘We Believe in Israel’, another Israeli embassy front group, was full of praise for Corbyn’s speech, when he condemned ‘anti-Semitism’ to a group of racists:
It’s a shame he didn’t make this speech this time last year. His underlying beliefs won’t have shifted ... but, given where he came from, it was a carefully drafted speech that had appropriate wording in terms of the way it addressed core issues in the Middle East and the way it addressed anti-Semitism. My initial sense was there was not much one could find to criticise in what was said.23
What an utterly damning indictment of Corbyn that this creature of Labour’s far right could find nothing to criticise in his speech.
One thing the Al Jazeera programme did prove, however, was that the LFI itself is nothing more than a creature of the Israeli embassy. There was Shai Masot going around appointing the chair of Young LFI until a Ha’aretz article stopped him in his tracks.
And then there was the affair of the slush fund. Ryan asks what happened to the names she put in for an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, and Masot told her that he had just got the money - more than £1 million. It does not take a genius to work out that it costs nothing like that sum to take MPs on a freebie. In other words, the $50 million that Israel has allocated to anti-BDS work is a slush fund which is being used to pay for the running of LFI, including no doubt generous ‘expenses’ for people like Ryan. In short LFI is nothing more than an arms-length organisation run by the embassy. It is to be hoped that Corbyn now cuts his links with this reactionary, state-run organisation and never again speaks at its functions.
The investigation by Al Jazeera has been extremely damaging to the Zionist movement in Britain. We now have conclusive evidence of how Israeli state agents, with the connivance of the British state, have been interfering in both the Labour Party and the student movement, and how MPs like Joan Ryan and others, are in their pay.
Above all, the programmes demonstrate that the fake anti-Semitism campaign of the past year is just that. An artificial concoction dreamt up in Jerusalem, the Israeli and probably the American embassies. It is long overdue that socialists in the Labour Party dispensed with any feelings of guilt over this use of identity politics to shield and protect the privileged and powerful, the racist and reactionary.
The fact that Zionism uses ‘anti-Semitism’ in order to defend its demolition of Palestinian homes, torture and internment is a sign of its contempt for those Jews who did suffer from anti-Semitism. During the Iron Guard’s pogrom in Romania in January 1941 the bodies of Jews were hung from butcher’s hooks and their victims were skinned alive. To equate support for the Palestinians or the discomfiture of a spoilt brat from north London with the horrors that Jews have historically experienced demonstrates the utter contempt for actual Jewish suffering the Zionists have.
This should not be a surprise. When holocaust survivors first went to Israel after 1945, they were termed derisively sapon (soap) after the myth that the Nazis used fat from those killed in Auschwitz to manufacture soap. It was not until the 1960s, when the holocaust was used as the main instrument of Israel’s propaganda war, that openly expressed contempt for holocaust survivors vanished - at least from the surface of Israeli society.
4. New York Times February 1 2014: http://powerbase.info/index.php/Ministry_of_Strategic_Affairs_(Israel).
7. AJ Clarno The empire’s new walls Michigan 2009, pp66-67.
11. Anyone who harbours any doubts on this score should read Inside the company - CIA diary by Phil Agee, a former CIA case officer in South America.
15. Not only the Daily Mail and the Zionist Jewish Chronicle, but Jonathan Freedland and The Guardian. See, for example, ‘Labour and the left have an anti-Semitism problem’ (www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn).
16. ‘How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis’: https://electronicintifada.net/content/how-israel-lobby-manufactured-uk-labour-partys-anti-semitism-crisis/16481.
17. www.cherwell.org/2017/01/11/nus-vice-president-filmed-plotting-to-oust-malia-bouattia; and http://mancunion.com/2017/01/11/nus-vice-president-caught-film-planning-oust-president.
19. See http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/ella-rose-from-union-of-jewish-students.html.