Israel sorry for embassy employee plot to ‘bring down’ UK lawmakers

Ambassador Mark Regev tells British Deputy FM Alan Duncan that comments made about him and other MPs are ‘unacceptable’; London says ‘matter closed’

Israel's Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, interviewed by the BBC on May 1, 2016 (BBC screenshot)
Israel's Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, interviewed by the BBC on May 1, 2016 (BBC screenshot)

The Israeli ambassador to London has apologized to a UK minister after an employee was caught on film conspiring to discredit British politicians, notably Foreign Office deputy minister Alan Duncan, who is perceived as being unfriendly to Israel.

Ambassador Mark Regev had spoken with Duncan and made it clear that the remarks made in the video about UK lawmakers were “unacceptable,” embassy spokesperson Yiftah Curiel wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter account Sunday.

“The Embassy of Israel rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable; the comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly,” the statement said.

“Ambassador Regev on Friday spoke with Minister Duncan, apologized for the comments and made clear that the embassy considered the remarks to be completely unacceptable,” Curiel wrote.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “the Israeli ambassador has apologized and is clear that 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.”

Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed it had received an apology, and that it now considered “the matter closed.”

The undated footage, which was obtained by an undercover reporter for al-Jazeera and published early Sunday in British media, shows the employee, Shai Masot, asking Maria Strizzolo, a political operator for the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, whether he can list to her “some MPs that I would suggest you would take down.”

He then specifies that he means Duncan, “the deputy foreign minister,” who is on record supporting Palestinian statehood.

Duncan was “doing a lot of problems,” he added.

“I thought we had, you know, neutralized him just a little bit, no?” Strizzolo replies, to which Masot says, “No.”

During the conversation, the two discuss a “hit list” of politicians that they ostensibly intend to discredit, naming, among others, Crispin Blunt, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, whom Masot describes as “strongly pro-Arab rather than pro-Israel.”

British Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan (courtesy)
British Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan (courtesy)

At one point the two discuss Duncan’s superior, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with Strizzolo describing him as pro-Israel, and Masot noting, “You know he is an idiot.”

The report featured prominently in British media Saturday night, and was splashed across the front page of The Mail on Sunday with the headline “Israel plot to ‘take down’ Tory minister.”

The nature of Masot’s official role wasn’t immediately clear. While the embassy reportedly described him as a junior official rather than a diplomat, the title listed on his LinkedIn page is “senior political officer.”

The cover of the Mail on Sunday's January 8, 2017, edition, is headlined by an 'Israel plot to "Take down" Tory minister.'
The cover of the Mail on Sunday’s January 8, 2017, edition, is headlined by an ‘Israel plot to “Take down” Tory minister.’

In his job description there, he says he is the “chief point of contact between Embassy and Members of Parliament,” and that he is involved in “liaising with ministers and officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office” and “developing and promoting strategic partnerships with political contacts of the Embassy: senior British/Israeli Government officials as well as non-government stakeholders.”

In a statement to the press, Strizzolo played down the the footage, saying, “The context of the conversation was light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy. Any suggestion that I, as a civil servant working in education, could ever exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible. Shai Masot is someone I know purely socially and as a friend. He is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context.”

Blunt, the MP described by Masot as “strongly pro-Arab rather than pro-Israel,” called the comments about Duncan “outrageous,” according to the Daily Mail.

“To talk of ‘taking down’ a British Minister is very sinister,” another prominent Tory politician, former minister Desmond Swayne, told the publication. “There is anger in the US at Russia’s meddling in its democratic process and no such foreign meddling should be allowed in the UK.”

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