Israel sorry for official's call to 'take down' UK minister

AP News
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Posted: Jan 08, 2017 9:29 AM

LONDON (AP) — Israel's embassy in Britain apologized Sunday after an employee was recorded saying he wanted to "take down" a U.K. government minister who has criticized Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper published footage of senior political officer Shai Masot saying Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan was causing "a lot of problems." The meeting between Masot and an aide to a British Conservative lawmaker at a London restaurant was covertly filmed by a journalist for Qatari-owned broadcaster Al-Jazeera, posing as a pro-Israel activist.

Masot is heard asking the aide, Maria Strizzolo, "Can I give you some names of MPs (members of Parliament) that I would suggest you take down?" He later mentions Duncan specifically.

He also calls Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "an idiot," but adds that he is "basically good."

Israel's embassy said in a statement that the comments were "completely unacceptable," and that ambassador Mark Regev had apologized to Duncan.

It said Masot would be ending his term of employment with the embassy "shortly."

Strizzolo, aide to Conservative lawmaker Robert Halfon, told the Mail on Sunday that her conversation with Masot had been "tongue-in-cheek and gossipy."

Britain's Foreign Office said Regev had made it clear that the comments did not reflect the views of the Israeli government.

"The U.K. has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed," it said in a statement.

But opposition Labour Party foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry called on the government to investigate the "extremely disturbing" episode.

"Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved," she said.