A few days ago, a video clip showed Shai Masot, a low-level official at Israel’s embassy in London, sharing a drink with an aide to a British minister. In the clip, recorded surreptitiously by an undercover Al Jazeera reporter, Masot asks for help in trying to “take down” Britain’s deputy foreign minister. In the resultant full-blown scandal, the Israeli embassy has apologized and fired Masot; his interlocutor has lost her job; and the shadow foreign minister has called the incident a “national-security issue.” Brendan O’Neill takes the British media and politicians to task for their overwrought reactions:
The response to Al Jazeera’s months-long campaign to ensnare an Israeli official saying something off about British MPs has been extraordinary, and more than a little hysterical.
Al Jazeera has made a four-part TV series called The Lobby (they might as well have called it You Know Who), which apparently reveals the sinister reach and dastardly behavior of pro-Israel lobbyists in Britain. . . .
The Guardian referred to [the conversation] as an “Israeli plot.” This is a real and scary “plot against UK politicians,” said Al Jazeera. . . . [But] Israel certainly didn’t plan anything, so talk of “Israel’s plot” is utterly incorrect—a libel, one might say. This wasn’t a plot; it was an adviser showing off over booze. . . . It’s bravado, banter. If it’s a sinister plot to slag off MPs over drinks, then I’ve been behind hundreds of sinister plots in my life.
But of course when a British politico, even a British political adviser overseas, badmouths politicians he doesn’t like, it’s unlikely it would be splashed across the media as evidence of some shady “plot.” . . .
Israel, however, is treated differently. . . . The language used about Israel is striking. If one Israeli adviser says mean things about MPs, it’s a “plot”; when Israel takes military action, it is “bloodletting”; if Israel’s war moves kill children, as war tragically does, it is a “child-killer” or a “child-killing machine”—things very rarely said about the British or American military. There’s a striking double standard at play here—and a conspiracy-theory mindset too. Some have come to see Israel as an awesomely powerful force, seeking to puppeteer our political class, plot the overthrow of our democracy, and bend Britain and America to its allegedly craven cause. To control the world, in essence.
I can’t be the only person who hears in this the worrying echo of old prejudices.