Islamic Relief has elected a new board of trustees after The Times reported one of its trustees had praised Palestinian Islamic group Hamas and described Israel as the “Zionist enemy.”
Now deleted posts on the personal Facebook account of Dr Almoutaz Tayara, who is also the chairman of Islamic Relief Germany, described the leaders of Hamas as “great men” who responded to the “divine and holy call of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Although widely considered a legitimate resistance organisation in Palestine and the wider Muslim world, Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, has been designated by the UK and the EU as a proscribed terrorist organisation since 2001.
Dr Tayara wrote in Arabic: “The al-Qassem heroes did not graduate from the military academies of the UK and the US, unlike the rulers and royals of the Arab world who, there, were nurtured on cowardice and allegiance to the foreigners — the UK and the US.”
Social media posts by Tayara also showed the former American president Barack Obama in clothing branded with the Star of David. A caricature he posted showed a grinning Obama wearing a blue tie branded prominently with a white emblem. On his lap sat three smaller figures – Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s leader, President Assad of Syria and Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the Yemeni rebel leader.
In the Arabic speech bubbles Ayatollah Khamenei is saying: “Death to America . . . Death to Israel”; Assad says “Death . . . Death”; the Houthi leader shouts “Death to America”.
Dr Tayara told The Times he was “deeply ashamed” of his posts and that when he published them he was in a state of distress owing to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He accepted that the comments, which he said he had copied from posts by others, were “shameful and unacceptable.” He had apologised in 2017 to the board of Islamic Relief Germany, making it clear that “these were not and are not my beliefs.” “I do not support any terrorist movement. I do not support the Muslim Brotherhood or the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades. I am not an antisemite,” he said.
When The Times asked Dr Tayara why he posted an antisemitic cartoon in which Shia Muslim leaders demanded death for America and Israel, he said he was “deeply ashamed” of his actions.
He was not antisemitic, he said. Someone else posted the cartoon and he chose to repost it because it “was referring to the Iranian, Shiite involvement in the war in Syria and the region”.
This is the second time in a month that Islamic Relief has faced scrutiny over controversial comments by a trustee.
Heshmat Khalifa resigned his IRW directorship last month after The Times revealed antisemitic posts in which he called Israelis the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs” and Egypt’s president a “pimp son of the Jews.”
Islamic Relief apology
Addressing the issue on the election of its new trustees, Islamic Relief said: ““We wish to record our thanks to members of the previous boards for their many years of voluntary service to the organisation. We also wish to commend the previous board for acting swiftly and decisively to deal with inappropriate social media posts by two former trustees that came to light in recent weeks.
“In both cases these were historical Facebook posts dating back to 2014 and 2015, before either individual was on the board of IRW. In both cases the board met in emergency session on the very day that the organisation was first made aware of the posts. Both individuals apologised for the comments made, agreeing that they were completely unacceptable. Both agreed that they should play no part in the future governance of Islamic Relief Worldwide.
“We want to echo what the old board has said about these social media posts. We apologise on behalf of Islamic Relief for any offence caused. These posts in no way reflect the views or the values of Islamic Relief Worldwide, which is a purely humanitarian organisation with no political affiliations. The new board will continue to support the senior executive team in upholding the highest humanitarian standards of impartiality and independence, and assisting people of all faiths and none – without discrimination by race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We reject and condemn terrorism and believe that all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism, are unacceptable.
“At our first board meeting we have agreed to extend the level of scrutiny for IRW leadership by commissioning a review of trustee vetting and screening and social media policies that includes input from independent external experts, to do all we can to ensure that Islamic Relief’s core values are upheld in the selection and ongoing conduct of trustees. We expect this review to be completed by the end of the year.
“We look forward to meeting with the Charity Commission to discuss how we can learn lessons from recent events and build a brighter future.”
On the new board of trustees, Islamic Relief added: “We are honoured and humbled to be the first trustees elected by the global Islamic Relief family under extensive governance reforms.
“Islamic Relief has touched the lives of more than 120 million people in its 36-year history and is hugely respected for saving and transforming lives in some of the world’s poorest and hardest-to-reach places. Islamic Relief teams are at the forefront of supporting those affected by the biggest humanitarian emergencies of our time. This includes the conflicts in Syria, where we provided vital assistance to 906,000 people last year alone, and Yemen, described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Islamic Relief is on the ground in Yemen feeding over 2 million people each month with the support of the World Food Programme.
“We are proud to have been chosen to lead this great organisation into the next phase of its history. We have a golden opportunity to build on the exciting and innovative humanitarian, development and advocacy work that Islamic Relief is doing in 40 countries across five continents. We are also aware of the responsibility entrusted to us to safeguard those we serve, to uphold Islamic Relief’s core values and to strive for the very highest standards.”
The new Islamic Relief trustees are: Dr Ihab Saad – Chair (USA); Lamia El Amri – Vice Chair (Sweden); Dr Nora Amath – Secretary (Australia); and Nurhayati Hassan – Treasurer (Malaysia).
The Charity Commission, which began investigating IRW last month after Mr Khalifa’s posts were revealed, said last night that it had “requested an urgent meeting with the incoming board” to discuss the latest allegations.