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Israel allegedly using students to influence UK politics – report

Marchers cheer as they pass along a barricade separating them from anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement protestors during the Celebrate Israel Parade, Sunday, June 1, 2014, in New York. Image via AP.

Israel is using financial and strategic assistance to influence UK students, activists, and parliamentary groups and shape British politics, revealed Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit yesterday in an exclusive report.

The investigation, conducted by Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter Robin, found a close link between Shai Masot, a senior political officer at London’s Israeli embassy, and a network of Israeli sympathisers comprising politicians, activists, and analysts.

Areas of lobby included the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and Jeremy Corbyn’s pro-Palestine Labour Party leadership.

National Union of Students (NUS) elections

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) is made up of 64 Jewish societies at British universities. During the 2016 NUS Presidential Elections, efforts were made to influence the NUS presidential election to prevent Malia Bouattia – a pro-Palestinian human rights supporter – from winning. Following her victory, they planned to oust her.

Al Jazeera revealed a collaboration between the Israeli embassy through a pro-Israel activist named Michael Rubin; NUS Vice President Richard Brooks; and UJS campaign director Russell Langer.

“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,” Brooks said, adding that the group worked “quite closely together”.

Rubin 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.

The NUS represents 4 million students in the UK.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement

In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, French demonstrators and supporters of Palestinians hold a placard with the word “Boycott” during a demonstration in Paris, France. A campaign called BDS, which was started by Palestinian activists 10 years ago to boycott Israel, has grown into a worldwide network of thousands of volunteers lobbying corporations, artists and academic institutions to sever ties with Israel. Image via AP.

In 2015, the NUS passed a “Justice for Palestine” motion to align itself with the BDS movement, among others.

The Israeli embassy in UK and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful American Israeli lobby group, were reported to have given money to groups that aim to counter the BDS movement.

Groups like AIPAC work hard to fight the BDS movement, which is based on the mass campaign to economically and culturally isolate South Africa during the apartheid era.

“The Israeli embassy in the UK gives money to UJS,” said Adam Schapira, who previously ran an unsuccessful bid for the UJS presidency.

Schapira has worked with the Pinsker Centre, a campus-based think-tank to “intelligently educate about Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict”. The centre has received funds to this end.

“Groups like AIPAC gave some money,” he said.

These are part of Israel’s global campaign to counter the BDS movement. In a private meeting, Michael Freeman, head of civil affairs, told Al Jazeera’s reporter that the embassy was looking for someone to “research into the different BDS movements, who they are, what they are”.

All levels of the Labour Party

The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn speaks at Paston Farm Centre, in Paston near Peterborough, Britain. Image via Reuters.

Al Jazeera’s report further described the various methods employed by the Israeli government to sway opinion in all levels of the Labour Party.  Methods included establishing and providing support to pro-Israel groups, as well as trips to Israel.

With Masot’s involvement with the Fabian Society, an influential Labour think-tank, he said he had brought a group of them to Israel. A delegate from one such trip recently dismissed a story in prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz about Israel cutting water supply in the occupied West Bank as “false” and “propaganda”.

Masot, who has described Labour leader Corbyn as “crazy”, claimed he had built groups “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].”

He tutored the Al-Jazeera reporter on how to build a pro-Israel group, and offered the embassy’s support in securing an “interesting speaker” at events.

Upon Masot’s advice, Robin contacted Rubin, the former election chairman of the Labour Students group, for more advice.

Rubin then told Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter that Labour MP Joan Ryan, who is also chairwoman of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), spoke with Masot “most days”.

“The Labour Party at the moment is not in a good place to say the least,” Rubin said.

He also advised Robin to befriend “young people coming through who have … good views on Israel”.

Once, Masot had offered Robin the position to run the youth wing of LFI, which led Rubin to strategise, “I think we just have to be careful 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.”

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