Civil Service Muslim Network suspended after Israel lobby comments

UK Deputy PM Oliver Dowden. Editorial credit: lev radin /

The Civil Service Muslim Network has been suspended by the Deputy PM pending an investigation after reports surfaced that it had hosted events which saw speakers allegedly calling out the “insidious” Israel lobby.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, sprung into action with an immediate suspension of the network after a memo with the details of several webinars it has held to discuss the government’s stance on Israel had reached the right-wing newspaper The Times.

The Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS) has slammed the Deputy Prime Minister after the shock suspention of the Civil Service Muslim Network, a move branded concerning and “entirely insensitive.”

A statement published on the PCS website said: “While civil service networks sit outside of the remit of PCS, it is concerning that Oliver Dowden should suspend a network whose purpose is to represent and support Muslim civil servants. That this has taken place during Ramadan is entirely insensitive.

Added to government departments such as HMRC claiming that donating to a legitimate humanitarian charity, Medical Aid for Palestine is contrary to civil service values, raises deep concerns of Islamophobia at the heart of government.

PCS was the first national trade union to condemn both the Hamas attacks and hostage-taking in October and subsequent Israeli government’s war on Gaza, in which more than 31,500 civilians have now been killed.”

According to reports, at a webinar in December, an individual, who works in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, described the war in Gaza as a “fight between good and evil”, implying that Israel was evil.

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Allegedly, during another Muslim Network event, an official allegedly said that the “Israel lobby” has an “insidious influence” on British politics.

Mr Dowden told The Times: “I am disgusted by these allegations, which represent a breach of the trust given to this organisation and a betrayal of hard-working, diligent Muslim civil servants who wouldn’t dream of engaging in this sort of disturbing political activism. I have ordered an immediate suspension of the network pending an urgent investigation into it and individuals involved. This will include safeguarding and security issues.”

A government spokesperson also said: “All civil servants are required to obey the civil service code at all times, including in any staff network activity.”

According to the government webiste, the Civil Service Muslim Network (CSMN) is the sole cross-government, departmental umbrella network representing and supporting departmental Muslim networks and civil servants.

Civil Service Muslim Network

CSMN’s vision is to help create a truly inclusive workplace where civil servants of all backgrounds fulfil their potential and thrive, where every voice is heard, to deliver world-class policy and public services. A Civil Service that mirrors the rich diversity of the public it serves.

In their statement, the PCS also expressed concern for the saftey of its own members to express free speech in defence of Palestine, saying:

“As a union we condemn both antisemitism and Islamophobia, and we do not believe suspending support groups for staff and closing down discussion addresses these issues.

Our general secretary, Fran Heathcote is seeking a meeting with the Cabinet Office on the civil service code and the rights of our members to support humanitarian causes, attend protests and vigils calling for peace and a ceasefire in Gaza.

In the meantime we call on all Muslim civil servants to join PCS and get involved in the union’s Black* Members’ Network.”

UK government policy is that Israel “has the right to defend itself under international law” following the attack by Hamas and its kidnap of Israeli hostages on October 7.

The UK government has to date not called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The Palestinian death in Gaza sits at 31,819, with 14,000 of those listed as dead children.

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