It has emerged that the controversial Mitzvah Day event at East London Mosque on Sunday was funded by a Home Office counter-extremism programme, as well as being sponsored and promoted by prominent Zionist organisations.
The Middle East Eye reports that the “Chicken Soup Challenge,” in which members of Jewish and Muslim community groups cooked chicken soup for the homeless, was backed by the Home Office through a programme that provides funding and support for counter-extremism projects.
Other organisations and individuals supporting and promoting the event, and Mitzvah Day in general, included Muslim Aid, the Muslim Council of Britain, pro-Israel Jewish groups and the Israeli ambassador to the UK.
According to Middle East Eye, Home Office support for Mitzvah Day is provided through “Building a Stronger Britain Together,” a counter-extremism programme that provides support and grant funding to “civil society and community organisations who work to create more resilient communities and stand up to extremism in all its forms.”
The programme was set up as part of a counter-extremism strategy launched by the Home Office in 2015 that aimed to counter “all forms of extremism, violent and nonviolent, Islamist and the neo-Nazi.”
Another organisation involved in the event was BBYO, a Jewish youth organisation that organises “Israel Journey” summer experiences in which participants visit locations including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Galilee, the occupied Golan Heights and the Negev desert. The trips aim to create a strengthened sense of Jewish identity and a lasting connection to the state of Israel.
Mitzvah Day and the BBYO are both also backed by the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), the UK’s biggest pro-Israel charity. The UJIA seeks to build “meaningful connections between the UK Jewish community and the people of Israel” and says it has been doing this for “nearly 100 years”.
East London Mosque told Middle East Eye that they were not aware at the time of the event that Mitzvah Day was backed by the Home Office, or that other organisations involved organised youth trips to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
“Muslim Aid partnered with Mitzvah Day, we just hosted the event so were not aware of all of the details,” a spokesperson said. “We like to do our due diligence and do things that benefit our community. We work with many Jewish groups, we see no harm in working together for a common good. Even though Britain had a significant role in forming modern day Israel, I don’t think we should have an isolationist approach or a boycotting attitude.”
Jehangir Malik, the chief executive of Muslim Aid, told MEE it was important for young Muslim and Jewish people to know that they have more in common with each other than not.
“Social action is also a priority for the Muslim faith, Jews and Muslims have very similar charitable values… it was very moving to see young people talking to each other, working together, engaging with each other, from different walks of life and different backgrounds,” he told Middle East Eye.
Muslim Aid did not respond to requests for comment about whether it was aware that Mitzvah Day was supported by the Home Office, and the involvement of Zionist organisations promoting Birthright tours to Israel..