Israel suspends three diplomats over Twitter posts

Diplomats summoned for disciplinary hearings over remarks critical of PM and foreign minister, and could be dismissed.

    The White House said Republican leaders violated diplomatic protocol when they invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress [Reuters]
    The White House said Republican leaders violated diplomatic protocol when they invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress [Reuters]

    Israel has suspended and recalled three diplomats who posted on the micro-blogging platform Twitter remarks critical of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, and his foreign minister in advance of an inquiry that could result in their dismissal.

    Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, said on Thursday that the behaviour of the diplomats, including Israel's ambassador to Switzerland, was "unacceptable".

    Reported posts included observations by Israeli journalists criticising Netanyahu's forthcoming visit to Washington DC and speech before the US Congress over Iran's nuclear programme.

    Netanyahu's trip has angered US President Barack Obama, and the White House says Netanyahu's speech before the US Congress was a breach in diplomatic protocol.

    The invitation for Netanyahu, who is running for re-election, was made by John Boehner, the US House speaker from the opposition Republican party, without coodinating with the Obama administration.  

    Yigal Caspi, the Israeli diplomat in Switzerland, had posted remarks by journalists accusing Netanyahu of endangering already shaky relations with the Obama administration.

    Caspi, who has been suspended and recalled to Israel, froze his Twitter account on Thursday.

    So did two other diplomats: Assaf Moran, a political officer at Israel's embassy in India, and Yaron Gamburg, a staffer at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

    According to Twitter statements republished by Israeli news site NRG, Moran had accused Netanyahu of ducking any discussion of social issues, while Gamburg said on Twitter: "What is happening to our relations with the United States is madness."

    Caspi had also retweeted remarks by a journalist describing Lieberman as high-handed.

    Authenticity confirmed

    A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the Twitter posts as genuine and said the diplomats had been summoned for disciplinary hearings and could be dismissed.

    None of the three could immediately be reached for comment.

    Another Israeli official said he knew of no involvement by Netanyahu in the matter.

    Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel's deputy foreign minister, described the Twitter posts as "outrageous" and compared the diplomats to renegade soldiers.

    "They are, in essence, warriors for Israel in the diplomatic arena, against anti-Semitism, against Palestinian incitement, against all kinds of threats, [who] suddenly turned their weapons against their commanders, the elected leaders of Israel," Hanegbi told Israel Radio.

    "These people must identify with all of the state's positions, regardless of politics. If they cannot, they should resign."

    The Israeli government is active on Twitter. In a 2012 article, the Canadian International Council praised Israeli engagement with Twitter as "probably the best example of how to use Twitter to shape foreign policy".

    Alon Liel, a former Foreign Ministry director-general, faulted the three diplomats but said their Twitter posts might be seen as a "cry for help" given Israeli diplomats' poor pay and the difficulty of justifying Netanyahu's policies abroad.

    "They are taking a lot of fire and watching Israel lose friends," Liel told NRG.

    The diplomats' suspensions came in the lead-up to Israel's national election in March.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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