Boris Johnson is an 'idiot', says Israeli embassy official caught on camera

‘He is an idiot, but so far he has become the minister of foreign affairs without any kind of responsibilities,’ says Shai Masot in the undercover footage

Katie Forster,Lizzie Dearden
Sunday 08 January 2017 09:26 GMT
Israel diplomat calls Boris Johnson an 'idiot'

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An Israeli diplomat has called Boris Johnson an “idiot” in undercover footage taken during a conversation with a civil servant.

Shai Masot’s remarks to Maria Strizzolo, Conservative MP Robert Halfon’s former chief of staff, were caught on camera by Al Jazeera’s investigations unit.

The Israeli embassy official said Mr Johnson had become Foreign Secretary “without any kind of responsibilities” at a meeting at an upmarket restaurant in Kensington in October.

He was also filmed discussing how to “take down” pro-Palestinian MPs including Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan.

“Boris is busy, you know. You know he is an idiot, but so far he has become the minister of foreign affairs without any kind of responsibilities,” Mr Masot says in the video.

Ms Strizzolo says “Boris is good,” to which Mr Masot agrees: “Boris, he’s basically good.”

“He’s solid on Israel,” says Ms Strizzolo.

“Yeah, he just doesn’t care. He’s busy with everything else,” replies Mr Masot, adding: “So technically if something real happened, it wouldn’t be his fault.”

Mr Masot also asked Ms Strizzolo if he could “give [her] some MPs that I would suggest you would take down,” and went on to specify Sir Alan, the Conservative MP who serves under Mr Johnson.

Sir Alan sparked criticism from prominent pro-Israel groups in 2014, when he described settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as an “ever-deepening stain on the face of the globe”.

The former International Development Secretary also equated the situation in the divided West Bank city of Hebron to “apartheid”.

Mr Johnson has been less critical of Israel than Sir Alan, dismissing supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as “snaggle-toothed lefty academics” in 2015, causing Palestinian charities to cancel a string of planned meetings as the then London Mayor toured Israel and the West Bank.

“Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?” Mr Masot asks, grinning.

Ms Strizzolo laughs before replying: “Well you know, if you look hard enough I’m sure that there is something that they’re trying to hide.”

Mr Masot says he has “some MPs in mind”, going on to specify the “deputy foreign minister”, referring to Sir Alan, the Conservative MP who serves under Boris Johnson.

“He’s doing a lot of problems,” the Israeli embassy official says, before Ms Strizzolo asks: “I thought we had, you know, neutralised him a little bit, no?”

Israeli embassy official Shai Masot discussing ‘taking down’ pro-Palestinian MPs at a restaurant in London in October
Israeli embassy official Shai Masot discussing ‘taking down’ pro-Palestinian MPs at a restaurant in London in October (Al Jazeera)

The third person at the table in October was a man known as “Robin”, who posed as a representative of the Labour Friends of Israel group while working as an undercover reporter.

The Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, has spoken with Sir Alan to apologise for the “completely unacceptable” comments.

The embassy sought to play down the incident as the footage was broadcast on Saturday night, describing Mr Masot as a “junior embassy employee”, who is not a diplomat.

His business card describes him as “a senior political officer”, while his LinkedIn page lists him as having worked for the embassy since November 2014.

Mr Masot says he was Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) major between 2004 and 2011 and describes himself as the chief point of contact between the embassy and MPs, liaising with ministers and officials at the Foreign Office.

“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,” said a statement from the embassy’s spokesman.

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

Mr Masot has not commented on the footage. Ms Strizzolo, currently a senior manager at the Skills Funding Agency, told The Guardian their conversation was “light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy”, adding: “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.”

She continues to work part time as an aide to education minister Mr Halfon, the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel.

The footage is part of a six-month investigation by Al Jazeera that the Qatar-based broadcaster claims reveals a “brazen, covert influence campaign in Britain” orchestrated by the Israeli government.

It comes little over a week after Theresa May put herself at odds with Barack Obama’s administration by expressing strong support for Israel in the ongoing dispute over the construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Foreign Office said it was satisfied with Mr Regev’s apology over the matter.

“The Israeli Ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the Embassy or Government of Israel,” a spokesperson told The Independent.

“The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

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