Israeli embassy official filmed discussing how to 'take down' Sir Alan Duncan and other pro-Palestinian MPs

Embassy apologises for Shai Masot's comments, which include calling Boris Johnson 'an idiot'

Lizzie Dearden
Sunday 08 January 2017 02:58 GMT
Israeli diplomat caught naming MPs to 'take down'

Israel's ambassador to the UK has apologised after an embassy official was caught in an undercover sting discussing how to "take down" Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan.

The Israeli embassy official was caught on camera discussing how to target pro-Palestinian MPs including Sir Alan.

Covert footage taken by Al Jazeera’s investigations unit shows Shai Masot talking with Conservative MP Robert Halfon’s former chief of staff, Maria Strizzolo, at an upmarket restaurant in Kensington in October.

“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.”

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)

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?”

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, 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.

Mr Masot and Ms Strizzolo agreed that Mr Johnson is “basically good” as Foreign Secretary, citing his public support for the Israeli government, but Mr Masot suggests he is too “busy with everything else” to focus on the issue.

“He is an idiot but so far he became the minister of foreign affairs without any responsibilities,” he continues. “So technically if something real happens, it won’t be his will be Alan Duncan.”

Boris Johnson at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, during a tour of Jerusalem's Old City in 2015.
Boris Johnson at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, during a tour of Jerusalem's Old City in 2015. (Getty Images)

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, said 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.”

On Sunday, she resigned 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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