Mark Regev: The one-man Israeli defence force who is set to become ambassador to Britain

He will be one of the most high-profile members of London's diplomatic circuit

Kim Sengupta
Friday 14 August 2015 19:26
Mark Regev briefs the media after Ehud Olmert's meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Mark Regev briefs the media after Ehud Olmert's meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

“Usually when you see me, it’s bad news,” Mark Regev once admitted wryly during one of his frequent appearances in the international media.

Now the man who has come to be known as the most prominent official voice in defence of Israel and its conduct during the conflict with the Palestinians is due to arrive in Britain as his country’s ambassador to the UK.

Mr Regev, the spokesman for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be taking up the London posting as one of a stipulated number of political appointees to the diplomatic service traditionally allowed under the powers of the prime minister’s office. He will replace Daniel Taub, a career diplomat who left the post last month after completing his term.

The new ambassador will be one of the most high-profile members of the London diplomatic circuit, especially following the media exposure he received in his previous job.

He will also bring with him a reputation for great tenacity in putting forward his country’s case during times of crisis, and infuriating critics while doing so.

The passions raised by the conflict between Palestine and Israel have been projected by some on to Mr Regev, with vilification against him on social media ranging from calling him a “propagandist” and “ apologist” to accusing him of “ spouting bile”.

Some of his highly charged interviews with news programmes on channels such as CNN and Channel 4 have become viral YouTube hits


Regev appearing on Newsnight

Mr Regev, however, has never shied away from hostile encounters and there is widespread acceptance that his modus operandi – a mixture of being polite and pugnacious, combative and charming – has been highly effective in representing Israel and Mr Netanyahu. “It’s not difficult to be a spokesman when things are stable, things are good”, a British diplomat told The Independent. “What Regev brings is the ability to hold the line when there is bad publicity, as has often been the case, of course, with Israel as well as Bibi [Mr Netanyahu]. And he does this relentlessly. He is a man on a mission.”

Countering accusations that, at times, he is trying to defend the indefensible, Mr Regev is adamant: “If I didn’t have faith in my client – and ultimately my client is the state of Israel – then I couldn’t do my job.”

Mr Regev was made the spokesman for Ehud Olmert while he was serving as Israel’s Prime Minister in 2007, and has continued in the job since. From the outset he insisted that he did not want to “hide” behind the title of an un-named “official spokesman”, preferring to be identified. Unlike some prominent British spin doctors, such as Alastair Campbell, he has avoided hostilities with the media, including with foreign journalists, saying two year into his job: “ I don’t see myself as a theatre critic for the British media. It’s my job to work with them.”

His mobile number is given out to dozens of domestic and international journalists who are invited to call the prime minister’s spokesman night and day. “I want all journalists to know that Regev is around,” he declared during the last Gaza war.

Mr Regev’s English made him the natural choice to deal with the foreign media.

He was born Mark Freiberg in Melbourne, Australia; his father Martin had been a holocaust survivor.

He graduated from Melbourne University in 1981, where he was fervently left-wing and active in the Socialist-Zionist youth movement, Ichud Habonim, where the future film director Mike Leigh and future comedian Sacha Baron Cohen were fellow members.

Mr Regev emigrated to Israel after finishing his studies and began working in a kibbutz, changing his surname, because he thought it sounded too German, to Regev, which means a “small piece of land” in Hebrew.

After joining the civil service in 1990, he rose rapidly through the ranks of the diplomatic corps, serving at embassies in Beijing, Hong Kong and Washington, before being appointed foreign ministry spokesman and then the prime minister’s spokesman in 2007. Mr Regev maintains that his career path was not intended and he may well have followed another path.

“What has happened to me, much of it is accidental,” he said in an interview. “I spent a year unsuccessfully doing a doctorate at Tel Aviv University. I never finished it.

“Had I been a better academic I might never have joined the foreign service.

“Had my wife been in love with the kibbutz we might never have left there and I might still been teaching at high school.”

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