Israel’s Covert Influence on UK Politics and Student Groups: Unveiling the Tactics

In a groundbreaking investigative report, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has exposed a clandestine effort by Israel to influence student organizations, activists, and parliamentary groups in the United Kingdom. This covert operation involved both financial and strategic support, aimed at garnering support among young organizers and shaping British politics. The investigation sheds light on the intricate web of relationships between pro-Israeli entities and British sympathizers, uncovering a network with ties to the Israeli embassy in London.

At the heart of this revelation is an undercover reporter, known as Robin, who infiltrated pro-Israeli groups actively countering the powerful and growing movement against the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. The aggressive lobbying by Israel coincided with the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a vocal supporter of Palestinian interests within the opposition Labour Party.

BDS, a movement aimed at pressuring Israel through economic and cultural isolation, has gained significant support within British universities. In June 2015, the National Union of Students (NUS) voted in favor of boycotting Israel. A year later, the NUS elected its first black, Muslim, female president, Malia Bouattia, a prominent pro-Palestinian human rights supporter. In contrast to the NUS, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), representing 64 Jewish societies at British universities, strongly opposes the BDS movement.

The Al Jazeera investigation revealed that the UJS not only received financial support from the Israeli embassy but also attempted to influence the NUS presidency election and, eventually, oust Bouattia after her victory. Michael Rubin, a young parliamentary officer and pro-Israel activist, admitted to working closely with the Israeli ambassador and embassy, campaigning against Bouattia’s presidency.

Richard Brooks, the NUS vice president, held “secret” meetings with Russell Langer, UJS campaign director, and Rubin during the election campaign. They worked together to support moderate candidates and plot against Bouattia. Additionally, it was uncovered that the UJS sent Brooks on a paid trip to Israel, which he did not disclose in his radio interview.

The NUS represents more than four million students and has seen notable politicians like Jack Straw and Charles Clarke serve as leaders in the past.

Adam Schapira, who ran for the UJS presidency, revealed that the Israeli embassy in the UK provided financial support to the UJS. Schapira had previously worked with the Pinsker Centre, a think-tank focused on educating about Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also confirmed that American pro-Israel lobby AIPAC was channeling funds to British campuses through the Pinsker Centre.

These groups work diligently to counter the BDS movement, modeled after the mass campaign to isolate South Africa during apartheid. Their tactics involve economic and cultural isolation to pressure Israel.

Throughout the investigation, the undercover reporter, Robin, posed as a graduate activist with pro-Israel sympathies, eager to combat the BDS movement. Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, emphasized the importance of building support for Israel within all levels of the Labour Party, which was then led by Jeremy Corbyn. He even offered Robin a job running the youth wing of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).

Masot provided guidance on establishing pro-Israel groups and offered embassy support in securing speakers for events. He mentioned his idea to form a youth branch of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), emphasizing the need to educate the grassroots of the Labour Party.

In a bid to further influence opposition, Masot claimed to be involved with the youth arm of the Fabian Society, a prominent Labour Party think-tank. One Fabian, Martin Edobor, endorsed Masot and dismissed reports about Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank as “false” and “propaganda.”

In a private meeting at a London hotel, embassy staff introduced Robin to Michael Freeman, head of civil affairs at the Israeli embassy. Freeman indicated that the embassy was seeking someone to research BDS movements. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, was also present at the event, emphasizing the ministry’s task of countering the BDS movement worldwide.

The investigation exposed the deep connections between Israeli representatives and British politicians. Michael Rubin, the parliamentary officer, revealed that Labour MP and LFI chairwoman Joan Ryan spoke with Masot frequently. Rubin stressed the need to engage with young people who hold pro-Israel views and to maintain a separate identity for the LFI to reach a broader audience.

This revelation has sparked concerns about the growing influence of Israel on British politicians as they seek to counter the BDS movement. As this issue gains attention, it is vital to continue monitoring the relationships and activities that shape British politics and activism in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.

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