The Foreign Office has categorically denied reports that a senior British diplomat drew a distinction between terror in Israel and Europe in a meeting with the country’s deputy defence minister.

Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan

Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan

Michael Howells, head of the Middle East desk at the Foreign Office in London, was reported by the NRG website to have told Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan in Tel Aviv last week that the situation was “different because of the occupation”.

Israeli sources later told the Jewish News that, when the deputy minister asked whether Britons have a better understood of what Israelis go through following recent terror attacks, Howells said yes but went on to say there was a difference due to the “Palestinian issue”.

“The Office of the Deputy Minister of Defense wish to make it clear that Britain is a close friend of Israel. Mr.Howells said that Britain with its own history of suffering terrorism understood what Israel was going through as a result of the recent terrorist attacks in Israel.”

An apparent joint statement between office of the deputy defence minister and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv – sent to the Jewish News by the Embassy this morning – insisted the senior official did not make the comments attributed to him. But Israeli sources, speaking to this newspaper, stood by the report, insisting that there was no other way of understanding the remarks than linking terror to the conflict.

The statement said: “The British embassy in Israel and the Office of the Deputy Minister for defence wish to make it clear that Michael Howells, a visiting senior official, did not make the comments wrongly attributed to him about recent terrorist attacks in Israel.”

But the plot thickened further when the statement appeared on the NRG site without any mention of the deputy minister’s office – the journalist who wrote the story confirming that was the full statement he received from the Israelis.

According to the Hebrew-language website, Jewish Home MK Ben Dahan insisted “terror is terror and one can’t differentiate between different kinds”. Attacks were the result of incitement and nothing to do with the occupation, he said.

The pair also discussed the EU plans to label goods from settlements. Ben-Dahan asked why the EU was not labelling goods from leading human rights abusers but was picking out those from the democracy in the region.