Islamic Relief: charity watchdog condemned over anti-Semitism inquiry handling

Commission ‘satisfied’ the charity is making improvements after hate posts from three senior figures emerged

Islamic Relief Worldwide in Digbeth, Birmingham, England, United Kingdom. Digbeth is an area of Central Birmingham, England. Islamic Relief Worldwide is an international humanitarian organisation that provides development programs and humanitarian relief around the globe, regardless of race, political affiliation, gender or belief. Following the destruction of the Inner Ring Road, Digbeth is now considered a district within Birmingham City Centre. As part of the Big City Plan, Digbeth is undergoing a large redevelopment scheme that will regenerate the old industrial buildings into apartments, retail premises, offices and arts facilities. There is still however much industrial activity in the south of the area. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)
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The UK’s charity watchdog has been criticised over its handling of an investigation into anti-Semitism at Islamic Relief Worldwide.

In its report, published on Thursday, the Charity Commission ruled it is "satisfied" with the measures taken by IRW, which is based in the central city of Birmingham, to address hate posts made by three of its senior figures.

The commission met with IRW's new board and accepted that necessary improvements in vetting trustees and ongoing oversight of their social media activities were in place.

“The commission’s case established that the former trustees and director did not disclose the existence of their social media profiles or posts to the charity,” a statement said.

After reviewing the charity’s response to extremist comments, the commission said it was satisfied with IRW's condemnation of the comments. It noted that all three individuals left their roles of their own accord.

The Henry Jackson Society, a London think tank, said the commission had “not gone far enough” in reprimanding IRW and failed to send a “sufficiently strong” message that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated.

“Anti-Semitic social media posts from the top leadership of UK government-funded charity Islamic Relief Worldwide seriously undermine both its credibility and the confidence of its donors, which in turn may affect its ability to respond to humanitarian and development challenges around the world as set out in its global strategy,” said Matt Dryden, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.

“Although the Charity Commission’s imposition of regulatory advice and guidance is welcome, it clearly does not go far enough, and fails to send a sufficiently strong message that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.”

The report comes just days after global measures were taken against the charity over its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Netherlands and Germany have banned IRW from receiving funding and it is now being forced to provide monthly compliance reports following an urgent review by USAID, America's national aid agency, after its links to the Muslim Brotherhood were exposed.

The commission began its investigation last July, when IRW trustee Heshmat Khalifa resigned after being confronted with more than a dozen offensive Facebook posts from 2014 and 2015 relating to support of militant group Hamas and anti-Semitism.

Over the following months other high-profile figures at the charity were also revealed to have made inappropriate posts.

Trustee Almoutaz Tayara admitted he had posted offensive material praising Hamas and an anti-Semitic cartoon.

And fundraising co-ordinator Abdul Mannan Bhatti was found to have posed regular quotes from Sayyid Qutb, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Charity Commission added it is still considering the “reasons and circumstances” for the men’s failure to declare the posts and where further regulatory action is appropriate.

"The posts made by a number of now former senior leaders within Islamic Relief Worldwide on social media were clearly offensive, and risked damaging public trust in Islamic Relief Worldwide and charities more generally," said Tim Hopkins, assistant director of investigations at the Charity Commission.

“There is no place for anti-Semitism or any other form of racism in charity, which is a precious national asset that we must work together to protect and promote.

“We welcome the improvements the charity has made to its governance so far and will continue to monitor its progress.”

It has also advised IRW to update its code of conduct for trustees.

Since the incidents came to light, IRW’s newly elected board of trustees has launched an independent commission to review senior executive and trustee screening, vetting policies and practices of all IRW entities and associated organisations.

It is chaired by former attorney general Dominic Grieve and the former chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee, Sir Clive Jones, and is due to report shortly.

Dr Ihab Saad, chairman of IRW's board of trustees, said trustees and senior staff have attended anti-Semitism awareness training and this will be rolled out to other staff this year.

"The actions of these three individuals fell far short of the standards that we expect from our organisation," he said.

“Their comments were deeply offensive and in clear violation of our core values and beliefs. Anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination will never be tolerated or have any place in Islamic Relief.

“We are determined to do all in our power to make sure this kind of misconduct does not happen again, and we accept and appreciate the clear guidance of the Charity Commission. We are already implementing a number of actions and it will continue to be a top priority for us to take them forward,” said Dr Saad.

The UK's DEC is due to re-examine its funding of IRW. The charity receives millions of pounds of aid as a member of DEC and is one of 14 major UK agencies in the alliance, which includes the British Red Cross and Oxfam GB.

German aid alliance group Aktion Deutschland Hilft has suspended Islamic Relief Germany's membership until December 2021, with the charity's funding frozen.

Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands' minister for foreign trade and development, said on Tuesday that she would block any further release of government funds to the organisation, which was one of four charitable groups that had submitted an application to distribute more than 37 million euros ($44.8m) in a January tender.

Ms Kaag said she had learnt in December of the allegations linking IRW to the Muslim Brotherhood. "Based on this information, I have decided not to subsidise Islamic Relief Worldwide," she said.