British MP's aide 'quits' over Israeli diplomat plot to 'take down' minister
Maria Strizzolo, a former parliamentary assistant to junior education minister Robert Halfon, has resigned from her current position in in the education department after the release of undercover footage in which she is seen discussing ways to "take out" deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan with an Israeli embassy employee.
The Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn tweeted the news on Sunday after a number of media outlets, including Middle East Eye, reported on a conversation filmed by Al Jazeera's investigative unit at a restaurant in London last year with Shai Masot, the Israeli embassy's political officer.
Speaking to an undercover reporter posing as a pro-Israel political activist, Strizzolo boasted of how she had taken on Halfon, the MP for Harlow in Essex, when he was a backbencher: "And now look at him, he's a minister, so I'm not too crap!"
Masot, who in an online profile deactivated on Saturday described Niccolo Machiavelli as his "God", then asked her whether she could do the opposite: "Can I give you some MPs that you can take down?"
Strizzolo, who is now a UK government employee working at the Department for Education's Skills Funding Agency, replied: "Well you know, if you look hard enough I'm sure that there is something they are trying to hide."
Masot said: "Yeah, I have some MPs."
Strizzolo said: "Let’s talk about it."
Masot then told the reporter: "No, she knows which MPs I want to take down."
Strizzolo replied that it would be good to remind her, and Masot then said: "The deputy foreign minister."
This did not come as a surprise to Strizzolo, who replied: "You still want to go for it?"
Masot said: "No, he's doing a lot of problems."
Strizzolo then recounted an encounter between Duncan and Halfon, her boss, in which she alleged that Duncan had threatened to "destroy" him. Halfon allegedly reported the incident to the party whips, who told him to "calm down".
The conversation about what to do about Duncan then continued, with Masot saying: "Never say never, yeah but ...", and Strizzolo suggesting: "A little scandal maybe?"
In a statement on Saturday, Strizzolo said: “The implications the Guardian is seeking to draw from a few out-of-context snippets of a conversation, obtained by subterfuge, over a social dinner are absurd.
“The context of the conversation was light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy. 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.”