UK government urged to investigate Israeli plan to 'take down' minister
Theresa May was on Sunday facing mounting pressure to launch a full investigation into an Israeli diplomat caught plotting to "take down" a British minister for his opposition the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
The opposition Labour and the Scottish National parties both called on the British prime minister to investigate Shai Masot, who caught by an undercover reporter discussing with a British civil servant how to discredit deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan.
The Israeli embassy on Saturday said Masot would be removed from his "junior" position and apologised for his actions, while Britain's foreign office said: "The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed."
However, Emily Thornberry, the Labour shadow foreign minister, called for the removal of Masot from the UK and a full inquiry into the affair, which she described as a "national security issue". The call was echoed by the Scottish National party, while dissent began to grow within May's Conservative party over the foreign office statement.
Thornberry said: "The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing," she said.
"Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved.
"It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. This is a national security issue.
"The embassy official involved should be withdrawn, and the government should launch an immediate inquiry into the extent of this improper interference and demand from the Israeli government that it be brought to an end."
The SNP's foreign affairs spokesman, Alex Salmond MP, said: “It is completely unacceptable for the government to declare the matter closed - Shai Masot must go and go immediately before the end of his tenure at the Israeli embassy.
"Boris Johnson must right now revoke Mr Masot's diplomatic status and remove him from the country as would most certainly have happened had the circumstances been reversed.I would expect the UK Government to fully investigate this matter."
Nicolas Soames, a former Conservative defence minister, likened the tactics of Masot to Soviet spies during the cold war.
He told Middle East Eye: "This ranks as the equivalent of Soviet intelligence in what they are doing to suborn democracy and interfere in due process."
And Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP and the chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, told MEE: "What we cannot have is Israel acting in the UK with the same impunity it enjoys in Palestine.
"This is clearly interference in another country's politics of the murkiest and most discreditable kind."
The Israeli embassy said Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, had spoken to Duncan to apologise and made clear that Masot's remarks were "completely unacceptable".
Maria Strizzolo, the British civil servant caught discussing the "take down" with Masot, resigned on Sunday.
In the tapes, Masot, who in an online profile deactivated on Saturday described Niccolo Machiavelli as his "God", asked Strizzolo: "Can I give you some MPs that you can take down?"
Strizzolo, who recently moved to a position in the education department, 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."
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."
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.