February 5, 2015 / 1:32 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 1-Three Israeli diplomats risk dismissal over tweets

* Tweets seen as critical of PM Netanyahu

* Three disciplined, including envoy to Switzerland

* Israeli minister likens them to "renegade soldiers" (Adds quotes, details)

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM, Feb 5 (Reuters) - An Israeli ambassador and two other diplomats face possible dismissal for publishing posts on Twitter critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his testy relationship with the White House, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

The offending tweets came as Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth term in office, fends off criticism at home and abroad over his plans to deliver a speech to the U.S. Congress on March 3, two weeks before Israel holds parliamentary elections.

The White House has objected to the speech, which is expected to be critical of U.S. policy on Iran.

Yigal Caspi, the Israeli envoy to Switzerland, had retweeted remarks by journalists accusing Netanyahu of endangering already shaky relations with Washington. 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 tweets republished by Israeli news site NRG, Moran had accused Netanyahu of ducking any discussion of social issues, while Gamburg tweeted: "What is happening to our relations with the United States is madness."

Caspi had also retweeted a journalist describing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as high-handed.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the tweets as genuine and said the diplomats had been summoned for disciplinary hearings and could be fired. None of the three could immediately be reached for comment.

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

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi described the tweets as "outrageous" and likened 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 its engagement with the microblogging platform 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 tweets might be seen as a "cry for help" given Israeli envoys' 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. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Trevelyan)

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