britain’s labour party is now an enemy of the human race and human values (like most other institutions)

Anger grows within Labour over role of ex-Israeli military intelligence official
Ian Cobain, Oscar Rickett, Lubna Masarwa, Simon Hooper, Middle East Eye, Jan 23 2021

Senior UK Labour Party figures have reacted with anger and dismay to the organisation’s decision to recruit an Israeli former military intelligence officer as one of its social media managers. Assaf Kaplan, who served with the IOF’s signals intelligence and surveillance agency known as Unit 8200, was recruited last year to work in the office of the party leader Keir Starmer. While Unit 8200 is the counterpart of civilian-run agencies in the west such as the NSA in the US and the UK’s GCHQ, it has faced fierce criticism for its role in maintaining close surveillance of the Palestinian civilian population. A number of its own members and former members complain that the unit creates divisions within Palestinian society, is used for “political persecution” and to recruit informers, and prevents fair trials in military courts. There is particular concern that Palestinians discovered to be gay as a result of Unit 8200’s pervasive telephone and digital surveillance are subsequently blackmailed. Chris Mullin, who was a Labour MP for 23 years and served as a foreign office minister under Tony Blair, told Middle East Eye:

I am not sure if this is a good idea. Is he still working for the Israelis or for the Labour Party?

John McDonnell, Labour’s former shadow chancellor, said:

I believe most party members will be bewildered to say the least that despite all the social media talent available in our movement, the party has decided to recruit someone with a track record of working in an intelligence organisation roundly condemned for its role in the abuse of the human rights of Palestinians.

Another senior Labour MP described Kaplan’s appointment as “extremely troubling.” He said:

It’s possible that there was an oversight and that his background was not thoroughly checked, but that would be worrying as well. Either way, the decision should be immediately reversed and he should be removed from his position.

Ghadir al-Shafie, the director of Aswat, the Haifa-based Palestinian Feminist Centre for Sexual and Gender Freedoms, told MEE that many Palestinians had been targeted by Unit 8200 because of their sexual orientation. He said:

The Labour party’s decision to appoint a former Unit 8200 soldier as a social media specialist is beyond shameful. It is particularly disturbing for me, as a queer Palestinian, that the Labour party chose to collaborate with Israeli soldiers who work to spy on and collect information about Palestinians to be used by the apartheid state for political persecution.

London Palestine Action, a Palestinian solidarity group based in the British capital, described the appointment as a “slap in the face,” saying Keir Starmer was offering “no anti-racist principles, just meek defence of the status quo.” Labour has been in turmoil since its former leader Jeremy Corbyn was suspended last year over his reaction to a report by the UK’s equalities watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The report said the party had acted unlawfully in handling the complaints of antisemitism it had received since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. Starmer said Corbyn had “undermined” the EHRC report by saying that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated.” Although Corbyn was reinstated as a party member in November, he has not been restored by Starmer as a Labour MP, meaning he currently sits in the House of Commons as an independent.

Kaplan was recruited at the end of last year and given the job title Social Listening and Media Organising Manager. In this role he is said to help the party track and analyse what is being said about it on social media, and respond to conversations about it. His military intelligence background appears to have been known to a relatively limited number of Labour officials. Kaplan was introduced to party staff as someone whose most recent job had been for the Israeli Labor Party, where he was said to have been involved in a campaign “to get the Arab vote out.” He has been working at Starmer’s office in parliament, and many staff at the party’s headquarters, which are outside parliament, appear to have been unaware of his military background until reports first emerged on Tuesday. Since then, Labour has refused to answer any of MEE’s questions about the appointment. In particular, its press office has repeatedly declined to say whether the party was aware of Kaplan’s military intelligence background before he was hired. One senior Labour MP said he suspected the party was now “scrambling to figure out how best to respond to this massive own goal.” A party official added:

Everyone is now worried and walking around on eggshells.

Kaplan did not respond to requests for a comment. There is no evidence that he was involved in surveillance activities leading to blackmail while serving in military intelligence. Unit 8200 is one of the Israeli army’s largest units and thousands of young conscripts serve within its ranks at any one time. It is considered to be a highly prestigious posting. It is never far from controversy, however. In 2014, 43 of its members and former members wrote to their commanders, and to PM Netanyahu, complaining that electronic surveillance of Palestinians was widespread, and was not targeted only at people suspected of involvement in violence. In the letter, they complained that this espionage was ultimately counter-productive. Other members of the unit wrote a counter-letter expressing their “shock” and “disgust” at the suggestion that they were involved in human rights violations. However, a former soldier who served with Unit 8200 told MEE this week that its work included collecting compromising private information on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza that could be used to pressure them to collaborate with Israel. He said he had served for a year in a department that was eavesdropping on people’s conversations, but had quit because of his concerns about its work. He said, speaking on condition of anonymity:

It is a dark system that has no limits. This tool has been used to keep the people oppressed in order that they don’t resist the occupation. I believe that the Labour Party or any side that identifies itself as democratic and cares about human rights has to ask questions before they give a job to someone who was part of a system that is promoting this policy against Palestinians.

Kaplan was hired at a time when Labour and the ruling Conservative Party have been attempting to build their technical skills in what has come to resemble a digital arms race. Like elsewhere, the role of social media and data analysis has grown rapidly in political campaigning in the UK in recent years. In 2014, less than two percent of advertising spending by UK political parties was directed to digital campaigns; by 2017 it had reached 43% and it has continued to expand ever since. Labour has failed to win four elections in succession since 2010. Senior party managers believe they have fallen badly behind the Conservatives over the last three years and are anxious to build the party’s technical campaigning capacity as a matter of urgency.

Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour will feel right at home
Jonathan Cook, Middle East Eye, Jan 22 2021

The revelation this week that the British Labour Party recently appointed a former Israeli military spy to work in the office of leader Keir Starmer is truly extraordinary in many different regards. It is hard to believe that the Labour leadership did not know who Assaf Kaplan was or appreciate the likely backlash to placing someone with his background in charge of the party’s social media work. This might explain the continuing reluctance of the Labour leadership to comment on the matter. Kaplan’s online CV points to his history with the Israeli army’s military intelligence division, and a past employment profile highlights his years spent in the notorious Unit 8200, which has a long and ugly record of surveilling Palestinians. One of the unit’s main tasks, highlighted by a group of whistleblowers in 2014 and widely publicised in the British media, is to gain damaging information to blackmail individual Palestinians. They are then threatened into collaborating with Israel’s military authorities against fellow Palestinians. Unit 8200 is the lynchpin of Israel’s success in maintaining its 54-year occupation, by engineering a policy of divide-and-rule among Palestinians and foiling any efforts they make to liberate themselves from Israeli oppression.

If Labour officials did not know the significance of Unit 8200, or how the invitation of a former Israeli military intelligence officer into Labour headquarters would look to swaths of party members, that in itself is an indictment. A near-civil war has been raging for some time in Labour over the suspension and expulsion of party members whose social media accounts have been scoured for anti-Israel sentiment by pro-Israel groups. To now put a former Israeli officer trained by a cyberwarfare unit in charge of monitoring social media for Labour is, on the best interpretation, completely tone-deaf. It highlights how indifferent Labour under Starmer is to the sensitivities of many of its members, and, of course, Palestinians, in stark contrast to the party’s strenuous and divisive efforts to placate each and every demand from the pro-Israel lobby.

If Kaplan’s work in Unit 8200 did not raise a red flag, other details lurking in his social media accounts should have rung alarm bells. Not only was he once an operative for Israel’s military spying machine, but he was also an online “friend” of the disgraced Shai Masot, a far more prominent Israeli spy. Four years ago, an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera exposed Masot, who worked at the time in the Israeli embassy in London, interfering at the highest levels of British politics. Masot was filmed in clandestine talks with Conservative Party staff about how to “take down” a British foreign minister, Alan Duncan, who was seen by Israel as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. More damagingly for Starmer, Masot was also exposed working closely with pro-Israel lobby groups in an attempt to influence Labour Party policy, and he expressed a desire to bring down Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. Masot reportedly set up “youth movements” intendedto operate as fronts for the Israeli government. The goal was to undermine Corbyn from within, because of his public role in the Palestinian solidarity movement and his trenchant criticisms of Israel.

After the four-part investigation was aired, Israel had to carry out a damage-limitation operation, quickly returning Masot to Israel and portraying him unconvincingly as a rogue operator. In fact, Masot’s work was entirely in line with the remit of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry to use dirty tricks to sabotage prominent individuals and movements abroad that criticise Israel, including the BDS movement. A few months before Masot’s exposure, the Israeli media had reported a feud at the embassy in London. The Israeli foreign ministry had complained that the strategic affairs ministry was carrying out potentially illegal activities in the UK and jeopardising the diplomatic mission. So why, before he took up his new UK post, was Kaplan moving in the same social or professional circles in Israel as the disgraced Masot? In a sign of just how embarrassing this information is for the Labour Party, Kaplan appears to have hurriedly erased his military intelligence past after it was exposed by the Electronic Intifada. The Labour Party has refused to answer questions from Middle East Eye on his appointment and Kaplan did not respond to requests for comment.

The decision to appoint Kaplan is all the more remarkable given that Starmer has been extolling his efforts to move past the legacy of his predecessor, Corbyn. For five years, Labour was mired in endless controversy around Israel, Zionism and Jews. Corbyn had to endure relentless, evidence-free claims from pro-Israel lobby groups, echoed by the mainstream media, that Labour had become institutionally anti-Semitic on his watch. These smears were chiefly designed to stop Corbyn from winning power. Starmer’s own campaign to win the leadership included a pledge that he was a Zionist supporter of Israel “without qualification” and a commitment to those same lobby groups that they would get to oversee, and even dictate, Labour policy on Israel-related matters.

It emerged after his election that Starmer had accepted, and concealed, a large, £50k donation to his campaign from Trevor Chinn, a member of a leading Israel lobby group, BICOM, whose founder and major funder was the son of an Israeli arms industry businessman. In the past, Chinn has donated to several Labour MPs who worked to undermine Corbyn: Joan Ryan, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel; Tom Watson, who served as Corbyn’s highly antagonistic deputy; and Owen Smith, who led an early challenge to unseat Corbyn as leader. Starmer’s campaign to distance the party from Corbyn reached its climax in October, when the UK government’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission issued a report after its investigation into Labour anti-Semitism claims. The report quietly exonerated Labour of any charge of institutional anti-Semitism, but the watchdog’s inconsistent findings offered Starmer and the UK media just enough rope to hang Corbyn. Starmer incensed much of the membership by taking the unprecedented step, in the wake of the report, of stripping Corbyn of his place in the parliamentary Labour Party, forcing him to sit as an independent.

It is hard not to view Kaplan’s appointment as either an astounding and entirely unnecessary self-inflicted wound, or as a deliberate provocation. Most of Starmer’s critics will regard it squarely as the latter. It fits too neatly with Starmer’s behaviour since he was elected leader last April. Since then, he has been working overtime to cosy up to pro-Israel lobby groups that were not only deeply opposed to Corbyn, but actively worked to oust him. In addition to expelling Corbyn as a Labour MP, Starmer has purged the party of members critical of Israel, including Jewish members, and silenced by diktat all support for Corbyn in constituency parties. Why, after what amounts to a mini-reign of terror within Labour to get matters related to Israel off the party’s radar and out of media headlines, would Starmer now plunge Labour into a new potential row about Israel?

The answer is that the recruitment of a former Israeli spy into the inner sanctums of Labour headquarters will ultimately prove a minor and temporary controversy for him. It will antagonise only the swath of members who supported Corbyn, for whom he has shown utter contempt and who have been battered into silence by what are effectively gagging orders from his new general secretary, David Evans. It will raise barely a flicker of interest from most Labour MPs, who were desperate for Corbyn to be gone, and many of whom belong to another pro-Israel lobby, Labour Friends of Israel. And it will be largely ignored by the British mainstream media, which has been giving the establishment-friendly Starmer a far easier ride than they ever gave Corbyn.

If anyone doubts this, just recall the hasty hushing up by the media of, and indifference of most Labour MPs towards, Al Jazeera’s expose four years ago. After brief indignation over Masot’s efforts to oust Duncan, the documentary series was quickly forgotten by the media. It was certainly not brought back into the spotlight in relation to the campaign of anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn, despite its very obvious and pressing relevance. The Masot affair, as well as this new one, reveal something very ugly about Labour politics, and British politics in general. Corbyn was widely criticised, mostly over activities that predated his becoming leader, for bringing the issue of Israel onto Labour’s agenda. His opponents argued that his foreign policy concerns overshadowed Labour’s more important domestic agenda. Could he not just forget about Israel?

But the decision of Starmer’s Labour to now invite a former Israeli spy into party headquarters, after a previous one, Masot, failed to gain a foothold, shows that the problem was never about getting Israel out of Labour politics. It was about getting the issue of Palestinian suffering, one of the most enduring legacies of British imperialism, out of Labour politics. The anti-Semitism controversy was never really about supposed anti-Jewish racism from Corbyn’s supporters. It was about fighting anti-Zionists in the Labour Party, and in so doing, making support for the Palestinian cause harder to express, which has indeed been the result. The current party leadership wants any discussion of the Palestinian issue, and Britain’s continuing colonial role, cleansed from the party. In Kaplan’s job description, under a category titled “values/behaviours,” it says that applicants must show a “commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion” and “to the Labour Party’s goals, values, policies and codes of conduct.”

What Starmer has made clear is that Labour’s values give no weight at all to the injustices still being suffered by Palestinians because of Britain’s historic meddling in the Middle East. Labour has also demonstrated that it has no commitment to “equality, diversity and inclusion” when it comes to Palestinian and Jewish members critical of Israel. Again indifferent to the optics, Starmer’s Labour sacked its only senior Palestinian party official this month, reportedly over his support for Corbyn. Imagine the outcry if Labour had sacked its only senior Jewish official. Rather, Labour’s vision of “equality, diversity and inclusion” springs from the same ideological worldview as its sister party in Israel, an Israeli Labor party that decades ago established a single political framework governing the lives of Israelis and Palestinians that B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group, described this week as “apartheid.” In the racist context of British politics, including Labour politics, there is no cost to screwing over Palestinians time and again. This is why Starmer will happily ride out the short-lived controversy, one restricted to ordinary party members, over appointing a former Israeli spy to his party headquarters.

For Palestinians, this decision cannot but be deeply offensive. For many years, scholars have been noting how Israel has turned the occupied Palestinian territories into a giant and lucrative laboratory in which it battle-tests weapons and military equipment for export. But equally importantly for Israel, it turns ordinary Palestinians into guinea pigs for experiments in how to surveil, control, divide and exploit them. Unit 8200, in which Kaplan worked for many years, is at the heart of that infrastructure of terror that keeps Palestinians afraid and oppressed. Israeli academics such as Jeff Halper have pointed out that Israel parlays this expertise into political and diplomatic power. Other states are queueing up to mine the lessons learned by Israel from spying on Palestinians, so that they can use similar techniques on their own populations back home. The need for these military and intelligence skills, learned from oppressing Palestinians, is reflected in Israel’s wide diplomatic backing by other states. Starmer’s Labour Party is showing it is no different. It will profit directly from the skills of one of the graduates of Unit 8200, benefiting from the lessons Kaplan learned in a military organisation that spies on and extorts Palestinians. That should not sit well with anyone in a party that claims to be left-wing, anti-racist and progressive, and to care about social justice. And yet, there are unlikely to be any meaningful repercussions for either Kaplan or Starmer from this ugly alliance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.