Houses of Parliament, London.
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Ambassador to Britain Mark Regev apologized for the undiplomatic comments made by a junior embassy staff member regarding how to “take down” anti-Israeli MPs, including deputy Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan.
“The embassy of Israel rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable,” a statement issued by the embassy on Sunday stated. “The comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment shortly.”
The comments were made by Shai Masot, a “temporary, local” hire who served as the assistant to the former No. 2 at the embassy, Eitan Na’eh.
He was taped in an apparent sting operation orchestrated by Al Jazeera for a four-part series it will run starting next Sunday alleging that Israel has infiltrated the Conservative and Labour parties to affect Britain’s foreign policy.
The Mail on Sunday placed the story on its front page, reporting that the Israeli Embassy “made a shocking vow to ‘take down’ [Foreign Secretary] Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office deputy, a secret film reveals today.”
Masot had some choice words for Johnson as well, calling him an “idiot.”
In response to the story, a Foreign Office representative issued the following statement to The Guardian: “The Israeli ambassador has apologized and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or the government of Israel. The UK has a strong relationship with Israel, and we consider the matter closed.”
The revelation comes shortly after Prime Minister Theresa May came out with a critical response to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s December 28 speech on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, even though the Foreign Office is believed in Jerusalem to have been a major player in moving last month’s anti-settlement resolution through the UN Security Council.
Masot, who according to Foreign Ministry sources has worked in the embassy for “about a year,” is described in the report as a “senior diplomat.”
He was taped having dinner in London with Maria Strizzolo, an aide to Conservative Minister Robert Halfon, who appears to be egging him on.
She reportedly stepped down from her position. Halfon is a former political director of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
At one point, Masot is heard asking, “Can I give you names of MPs I suggest you take down.” Masot says that Duncan is “doing a lot of problems.”
In 2014, Duncan characterized the settlements as a “wicked cocktail of occupation and illegality, a system akin to apartheid which brought shame on the Israeli government.”
Beyond the public fallout from the incident – the story featured prominently in the British press on Sunday – diplomatic sources said it raises the issue of discipline in the embassy in London, and how a junior employee who has not gone through any diplomatic training is allowed to hold meetings of this sort – and speak in such a dismissive manner – with British government officials.
Masot was brought into the job by Na’eh, who has since left the post he held in London and become ambassador to Turkey.
Masot was befriended by the undercover reporter for Al Jazeera, who according to diplomatic sources tried to get close to bona fide diplomats at the embassy but was rebuffed, only to instead befriend junior employees.
The reporter went under the name of Robin Harrow, and represented himself as an anti-BDS activist who showed up at numerous pro-Israel events.
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, slammed Masot’s comments as “ridiculous.”
Noting that he had never heard of him before, he remarked that “he must be a very junior employee.”
“This has nothing to do with the UK’s Jewish community,” he added.Tamara Zieve contributed to this report.