The Israeli ambassador has apologised after a member of his Embassy staff was filmed joking about ‘taking down’ foreign office minister Alan Duncan.
The comments were made by Shai Masot, an assistant to the deputy ambassador, during a six-month undercover sting by Al-Jazeera which the channel says reveals “attempts by the Israeli government to influence British democracy”.
Masot, who is not a diplomat, was contacted last summer by an undercover reporter claiming to be an Israel activist by the name of ‘Robin Harrow’. Harrow frequently tweeted pro-Israel messages under an account that has since been removed.
In one recorded conversation with Harrow at a London restaurant, a third party – a civil servant who is a former aide staffer to Robert Halfon during his meteoric rise within the party – Masot jokes whether she could do the same to make a career go in the opposite direction. According to The Guardian, he asks if he can provide a list of “MPs that I would suggest you would take down?”, before referring to Duncan when pressed.
Maria Strizzolo asks: “I thought we had, you know, neutralised him just a little bit, no?” Masot replied: “No.”
The Mail on Sunday reports that former aide goes on to claim that Duncan threatened to ‘destroy’ Halfon during a bitter clash over Israel, which led to him being reported to the whips.
Turning to Boris Johnson, Masot agreed that the foreign secretary was solid on israel but reportedly went on to describe him as an “idiot”.
An Embassy spokesman said: “Ambassador Regev spoke with Minister Duncan, apologised for the comments and made clear that the Embassy considered the remarks to be completely unacceptable.”
A foreign office spokesman said: “The Israeli ambassador has apologised and is clear 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.”
‘Harrow’ also set up a blog on Jewish News partner Times of Israel, claiming to be German-born and having taken part in Israel exchange programmes at school. His bio says he has always been fascinated by the strength of Israeli society “to live under such circumstances and continue to grant civil rights to all citizens”.
He requested both posts he wrote on the platform be removed on 19 December, saying his new employer didn’t want him to write.
In one in which he lauds the treatment of LGBT people compared to other parts of the Middle East, he had written that those calling themselves anti-Zionist are “effectively saying that Israel should not exist”.
He wrote: “If the Labour Party loses its path, leaves the progressive camp and sanctions terrorist groups like Hamas, we lose more than legitimacy and electability in the minds of the electorate. The Labour Party will lose its soul and open the door to a new wave of anti-Semitism.”
The Al-Jazeera programme is said to focus on the Embassy’s ties with pro-Israel organisations in the UK.
A promotional clip shows ‘Harrow’ filmed at a Jewish Labour Movement meeting at the party’s annual conference between the Ambassador and young members of Israel’s Labor party. The promo also shows Jackie Walker, who has twice been suspended from Labour and was removed as vice-chair of Momentum, calling for an investigation into Israeli activities.
A number of communal organisations have been sent questions by Al-Jazeera in recent days. But an Israeli official said: “These are routine relationships, part of the work of an embassy around the world, including the UK’s own embassy in Israel.”
In 2005, Al-Jazeera reported that Israel “had opened dams without warning, in order to flood Gaza”. Editors were forced to post a retraction in which they acknowledged that “In southern Israel, there are no dams of the type which can be opened” and apologised for the error.