washington | Golan Cipel is the petty officer who said he fought terrorists while in the Israeli army, the Israeli Consulate information officer who called himself a counterterrorism specialist, the homeland security honcho who couldn’t get security clearance.

Now that people close to New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey have identified the Israeli as the gay lover who brought the governor down, Cipel is saying he is neither gay nor a lover to McGreevey.

The Democratic governor’s relationship with Cipel, who served for a time as McGreevey’s liaison to the Jewish community, led to the governor’s admission last week that he is gay — and to his resignation from the governor’s seat he has held since 2002.

McGreevey admitted to a relationship with a man but did not go into details; staff members have named Cipel.

“I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality, if kept secret, leaves me, and most importantly the governor’s office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure,” McGreevey said at a televised news conference announcing his resignation on Aug. 12. “So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality.”

In an interview last weekend with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, Cipel, 35, vigorously denied a consensual affair with the 47-year-old governor.

“It doesn’t bother me that it is said I am gay, but I really am not; I’m straight,” Cipel said. “He hit on me over and over. It got to a point where I was afraid to stay with him alone.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, Cipel arrived home in Israel.

“I have come to Israel to be with my family at this time,” Cipel told reporters.

Later he released a statement saying he would return to the United States in a few weeks “to make sure justice will come to light.”

It’s not the first time in his career that Cipel has been at the center of contradictory accounts, nor is it the first time that such accounts rocked McGreevey’s administration.

Much of the murkiness had to do with Cipel’s experience with the Israeli military and later with the foreign service.

Cipel was dogged by controversy within weeks of his appointment in January 2002 as homeland security adviser by the just-installed McGreevey administration.

For one thing, federal homeland security officials would not grant the Israeli national the clearance necessary to read the material that was critical to carrying out the job.

The substantial experience in public security the McGreevey administration attributed to Cipel appeared on closer look to be at best inflated, according to investigative reporting in 2002 for Gannett’s New Jersey newspapers by Sandy McClure in New Jersey and Yossi Melman, a veteran investigative reporter with the daily Ha’aretz in Israel.

When the investigation came to light, Republicans and some Democrats were soon on the warpath.

Cipel resigned his position with the McGreevey government in August 2002.

The contradictory accounts of Cipel’s career continue to pile up. McGreevey’s staff accuse Cipel of trying to extort as much as $50 million from the governor, according to news reports.

One thing is clear and acknowledged by all sides: Cipel and McGreevey met on a trip McGreevey took to Israel in 2000 that was sponsored by New Jersey federations, when McGreevey was the mayor of Woodbridge, N.J., with an eye on the state house.

The two men instantly clicked, say those who witnessed the encounter at a wedding hall in Rishon le-Zion, the Tel Aviv suburb where Cipel worked as a municipal spokesman.

Cipel insisted his first encounters with McGreevey were not at all romantic.

“McGreevey seemed very impressed with my knowledge of the American political scene,” he said in another interview.

McGreevey offered Cipel a campaign job almost immediately, and soon Cipel was on his way to New Jersey to help out with the gubernatorial campaign.

The sudden move caught Cipel’s boss, Rishon Mayor Meir Nitzan, a little off-guard.

“He was a good worker, organized but not outstanding,” Nitzan said. “The whole story surprises me. I guess it shows you work with people but do not really know them.”

JTA Washington correspondent Matthew E. Berger, New York staff writer Rachel Pomerance and Jerusalem correspondent Dina Kraft contributed to this report.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.