Islamic Relief cleared of ‘institutional antisemitism’

Britain’s largest Muslim charity, Islamic Relief, has been exonerated of “institutional antisemitism” by an independent review chaired by former Attorney General and ex Conservative MP Dominic Grieve.

The review found that Islamic Relief Worldwide is a highly effective charity and its senior staff are universally respected by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. It also found that IRW is an important member of the Disasters Emergency Committee in delivering humanitarian aid, often in areas of conflict which are difficult and dangerous to access.

The four month review was commissioned by Islamic Relief following reports by The Times newspaper in July and August 2020 of antisemitic social media posts made by two of its trustees.

The posts contained criticism of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Israel, as well as praise for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both resigned from their positions following the media reports. Islamic Relief also appointed a new board of trustees prior to the review.

The Chair of the Commission, Dominic Grieve 

“It is important to understand that there is no evidence whatever that the reputational issues that have arisen over the conduct of trustees has had any link to the way IRW carries out its charitable work,” the review said. “IRW has been independently audited in respect of how it spends its funds and how they are raised, to the satisfaction of the Charity Commission as its regulator and its stakeholders, including its bankers and auditors. I have heard and seen nothing in this inquiry to contradict this clear conclusion.”

Among other things, the review recommended that IRW:

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  • Expand its total trustees to 15 and allow for 5 independent trustees
  • Diversify the national background of its UK staff, including the possibility of a non-Muslim trustee or trustees supportive of IRW’s ethos
  • Update the IRW Code of Conduct to so that Trustees and senior executives of IRW do not make any statements on social media that could interfere with the delivery of its humanitarian work or damage its reputation as a humanitarian charity
  • Devise a mission statement which says: “any expressions of hatred or prejudice against any group based on race, gender, nationality, political affiliation, sexual orientation or religion, is incompatible with IR’s charitable aims and is unacceptable”

Dominic Grieve QC, Chair of the Independent Commission, said: “Islamic Relief is a highly effective charity and we found absolutely no evidence that the reputational issues that have arisen over the conduct of a few individuals has had any link to the way IRW carries out this charitable work.

“The steps recommended by the Independent Commission should help to reduce the risk of recurrence of recent events. Sir Clive and I are confident that IRW will emerge with governance that is suitable for its purposes, puts it at the heart of the charities sector in the UK and enables it to sustain its crucial humanitarian work around the world.”

Social media posts 

Islamic Relief Worldwide said it welcomed the findings of the Independent Commission.

It said: “IRW has committed to fully implementing the recommendations, which include reforms to the membership and governance of IRW’s international Board, updating the charity’s Code of Conduct, and utilising external expertise when undertaking the vetting of trustees.

“Over a period of four months, the Independent Commission interviewed nearly 60 people including the Charity Commission, government representatives and leaders from across the humanitarian sector, as well as IRW staff and trustees.

“The report welcomes actions that IRW has taken in recent months to reform its governance and develop new policies and processes, such as a new personal social media policy. It also praises the impact of the charity’s humanitarian work in conflict areas, underlining the value of the independent audits that corroborate its professional approach…

Heshmat Khalifa

“Islamic Relief will now look forward and focus on implementing the various recommendations made by the Charity Commission and the Independent Commission, in tandem with its humanitarian and development work supporting 9.5 million people of all faiths and none, all over the world.”

The review came after The Times last year reported the presence of antisemitic material on the personal social media account of Heshmat Khalifa, a member of Islamic Relief’s board of trustees and one of its directors.

The posts from 2014 and 2015 centred on criticism of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the president’s relationship with the Israeli government as well as frustration with the Israeli state itself.

He also praised the Gaza-based Palestinian organisation, Hamas, as “the purest resistance movement in modern history.” He said that declaring its armed wing a terrorist organisation was a “shameful disgrace to all Muslims.”

Speaking to The Times newspaper he said that his comments were “my expressions of frustration with the political regime, rather than beliefs that I hold.”

A second trustee and chairman of Islamic Relief Germany, Dr Almoutaz Tayara was also subjected to press scrutiny following the discovery of personal social media posts in which he praised the leaders of Hamas as “great men” who responded to the “divine and holy call of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He also praised Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, a popular resistance movement in Palestine, that were designated a terrorist organisation by the EU and the UK in 2001.

Later during November 2020 Tayeb Abdoun, a senior director and board member of Islamic Relief Switzerland and Islamic Relief Norway, resigned after a 25 year career at the charity after posts from an undisclosed personal social media account came to light in which he praised the Muslim Brotherhood and shared an Arabic text claiming that Western countries were the real terrorists.

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