UK Islamist pressure group chief compared Israel to Hitler

Academics say crisis in Afghanistan could fuel spread of anti-Semitism and extremism

Anti-semitism commissioner Stefan Hensel (C) at the funeral service of Esther Bejarano, who survived the Nazi camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Azhar Qayum, chief of Mend, is accused of expressing anti-Semitism in a social media post. AFP
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The director of UK Islamist campaign group Mend compared Israel to Adolf Hitler in a social media post.

Academics said the crisis in Afghanistan could lead to a rise in anti-Semitism across Europe, particularly among groups with links to Islamist extremism.

Azhar Qayum, chief executive of Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), wrote that “Israel’s generosity is like the ‘generosity of Hitler'” in a Facebook post in 2014.

He was responding to a debate on the conflict between Israel and Hamas that year, and his comments were made before he took up his role at the lobbying group.

In a post responding to comments that Israel had been “generous” when it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Mr Qayum wrote: “So generous, push four million Palestinians off their land, then relinquish a tiny corner of it, whilst maintaining a crippling blockade even on that, invade every few months killing a thousand or two at will.

“Israel’s generosity is like the ‘generosity of Hitler'.”

Asked about the remarks this week, Mr Qayum told the Jewish News the comment was not meant as an insult, nor to be anti-Semitic.

“I used the word as you would of any nation that had recently used its armed forces to kill thousands of unarmed civilians and not as an insult to any people,” he said.

“Having had a huge amount of anti-racism training in my Mend years, I would now not use the word ‘Hitler’ in this context, particularly as I now know how some have made anti-Semitic comments when making comparisons to Nazi Germany.

“However, it was never intended in any way to be anti-Semitic. I will continue to work with all communities, including the Jewish community, to challenge all types of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism.”

Mend, which was set up in 2013, campaigns against the UK’s anti-radicalisation strategy.

This week, Charles Asher Small, the founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, took part in a discussion on how groups use anti-Semitism to promote extremism.

During the talk, which was hosted by the Henry Jackson Society foreign policy and security think tank, Mr Small said the situation in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban would affect anti-Semitism and the implications would reverberate across Europe.

“The fact that this anti-democratic reactionary movement is gaining control, and the West has acquiesced to is very much connected to the rise of anti-Semitism,” he said.

He called for the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood to be studied and said there needed to be more focus on the security threat the group poses.

“It’s very important to become fluent in the language of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam and its connection to the postmodern intellectual movements in the West,” Mr Small said.

“If we become familiar with their ideology, not only is it repugnant and full of sexism, anti-Semitism and brutal calls for violence and murder, it is antithetical to democratic principles.

“We all agree everybody should be equal citizens under one legal system regardless of our backgrounds," he said.

"What is at stake is a reactionary social movement that is calling for the extermination of the Jews and the destruction of democracy and equality, and we need to focus on that threat and become educated in it and fight back. Our think tanks and our voices need to be heard.”

In 2018, the Henry Jackson Society published a report titled Mend: Islamists Masquerading as Civil Libertarians, which claimed there were anti-Semitic views within the organisation.

“A considerable number of employees have espoused disturbing views with regard to terrorism, anti-Semitism and minority Muslim sects,” it said.

Mend has previously told The National it “condemns all forms of anti-Semitism” and has not responded to a request for comment.

Updated: August 18, 2021, 1:03 PM