Labour Party is facing a legal challenge over its recruitment of former Israeli spy Assaf Kaplan by leading law firm Bindmans. The Law firm has sent the Labour Party a letter on behalf of a British Palestinian member of the party, Adnan Hmidan, demanding answers over the controversial hiring of a former Israeli ex-military intelligence officer employed in a roll of “social listening” the role raises “serious concerns” about Labour’s position on Palestine, its recruitment process and its data security.
There are also questions on what exactly is “social listening” after the recent revelations contained in the #Labourleaks report that if proved true show Labour party staffers created a program designed to trawl members comments on social media without them knowing or having their permission in what is known as a witch hunt.
According to the job description, Kaplan’s position as the “Social Listening and Organising Manager” puts him in “a crucial new role at the heart of Labour’s new approach to digital campaigning”. It reportedly involves helping the party track and analyse what is being said about Labour on social media and respond to conversations.
Given Kaplan’s background, his recruitment in January by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for such a sensitive role sparked outrage. The Israeli was employed by the notorious Military Intelligence cyberwarfare outfit, Unit 8200, where he reportedly worked for almost five years.
Asa Winstanley broke the story that shocked most Labour Party members and cause a social media outcry at such a decision being made by the Labour Leader.
Unit 8200 is no normal spy unit. It is the largest single military unit within the Israel Defence Forces. It is mired in controversy over its surveillance of Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The unit is believed to carry out mass surveillance, blackmail and harassment, targeting the entire Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation.
Bindmans’ letter, seen by MEMO, noted Kaplan’s involvement within Unit 8200. It recalled allegations made by Israeli whistle-blowers that, “In 2014 (shortly after Mr Kaplan left the Unit), a group of 43 serving and former Unit 8200 reservists (not including Mr Kaplan as far as we are aware) alleged that the Unit had been using coercive spying tactics on innocent Palestinian civilians to obtain information for the purposes of extortion and blackmail.”
The letter also mentioned that a former Israeli soldier described the unit as “a dark system that has no limits” and that it was a “tool” that was being used to “keep the people oppressed in order that they don’t resist the occupation.”
It’s unclear what role Kaplan played in his years working for Unit 8200, but he has not denounced its operations or stated his opposition to the Israeli occupation. Instead, the ex-spy has mentioned his involvement openly on social media since leaving the Unit.
“Kaplan worked for Unit 8200 until 2013, just prior to the whistle-blower allegations,” said Bindmans. “It is therefore very likely that Mr Kaplan was involved in the unlawful coercive surveillance practices described above or, at the very least, aware of them. Either situation renders Mr Kaplan’s current recruitment by the Labour Party untenable.”
Kaplan was also involved in the latest General Election in Israel, working for Israeli Labor as deputy head of campaigns. The party suffered a catastrophic collapse in its share of the vote, and there are now rumours that it will be wiped out completely in the upcoming election in March.
Although some Twitter users have pointed out that Israeli citizens are subject to mandatory conscription into the Israeli army, the duration of national service is only two and a half years. Kaplan apparently served in Israeli intelligence for nearly five years, twice the normal conscription period. Other Twitter users have said that Kaplan is being singled out simply because he is an Israeli citizen and that if it was any other intelligence service there wouldn’t be any problem.
Many more have pointed out they feel uncomfortable with any former member of any intelligence service having open access to their data but the most prominent tweets have stated that if this was Jeremy Corbyn then the national press would have splashed it on every front page in derogatory headlines.
A further question mark over Kaplan is his friendship with Shia Masot. The former member of staff at the Israeli Embassy in London was filmed in an Al Jazeera documentary discussing how to “takedown” British politicians deemed unfriendly to Israel, including the then foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan.
“Given Mr Kaplan’s own background and his links to those who have actively attempted to undermine British democracy and target Palestinians, our client is deeply troubled by the Labour Party’s decision to recruit him to a position that would involve monitoring,” Bindmans explained.
Highlighting Hmidan’s concerns, the letter explained that he is worried that Kaplan’s appointment may jeopardise his rights under Britain’s data protection laws and the European General Data Protection Regulation. Hmidan claims that Kaplan may retain links to the Israeli military because it operates a system of reserve duty, whereby Israelis who have completed compulsory military service are subsequently assigned to the IDF’s reserve forces and can be called upon to rejoin the same units in which they served. This may put him and his family in Palestine at risk, claimed Hmidan.
“The Labour Party’s recruitment of a former Israeli army intelligence officer, who may have been involved in unlawful surveillance practices in Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], to a position which involves monitoring the data of its Palestinian members, runs directly contrary to its stated aims of solidarity, tolerance and respect for its Palestinian members,” Bindmans continued. “It also contravenes the Labour Party’s own public position that the Israeli occupation is unlawful. The Recruitment is therefore inherently unfair, in breach of the Rule Book 2020’s stated aims, and unlawful.”
The lawyers demanded to know if Kaplan retains links to the IDF, including any through the reserve programme; and to have it confirmed by the party that his appointment is in accordance with Labour’s objectives of promoting inclusivity and security for all its members, as set out in the Rule Book 2020.
Warning Labour that it could face further legal challenges, the lawyers said that “In the absence of a satisfactory response, our client will (a) consider litigation in respect of the unfair and unlawful Recruitment, and (b) refer the role and the Recruitment to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
The Labour leaks is an 860-page document that appears to show a huge cache of leaked WhatsApp messages and emails from senior officials of the Labour party’s right wing, who worked to undermine Jeremy Corbyn in his leadership of the Party.
In the dossier, the Labour party staffers described themselves as a ‘New Stasi’ after creating a system to spy on members’ for the sole reason of suspending and removing anyone that they felt pro Palestinian, Left wing or Corbyn supporters.
This New Stasi of the Labour Party, exploited the fact that not everyone understands the difference between the state of Israel and the Jewish people, and therefore framed every criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitism.
Since then, many Labour Party members have been kicked out of the party over accusations of anti-Semitism, some of them justified and some not but all on the recommendations of this corrupt unit.
Staff sabotaged Labour’s election chances, but worst is the abuse of members who didn’t know they were signing up to be surveilled under a “new Stasi system”. If members don’t understand the implication and implicit ethos of what those staff did the reality is for a political organisation to spy on its members is terrifying.
This is one reason people feel legitimately uncomfortable with the Labour Party hiring a former intelligence officer.