Islamophobia group loses main sponsors

By Martin Bright, February 4, 2011

Plans to establish an all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia have been left in disarray after its chair and one of its vice-chairs resigned over an “orchestrated lobbying campaign” from an Islamist group that backs Hamas.

The JC revealed last month that iEngage, a Muslim organisation with a track record of anti-Zionism, had been given the job of acting as the group’s secretariat.

After the JC approached the chair of the group to question iEngage’s involvement, Tory MP Kris Hopkins and one of his vice chairs, Labour peer Lord Janner, issued a statement distancing themselves from the group.

However, further pressure from the group has led to a split over the future role of iEngage, with LibDem Simon Hughes and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas taking the side of the Islamists.

Last week Mr Hopkins and Lord Janner announced they would be standing down from the group over the role of iEnagage.

They said: “It was our belief that the group needs to be seen as above reproach and political leaning in order to maintain trust and confidence in its work. Whilst iEngage are perfectly entitled to express their views, we did not believe it appropriate for them to do so whilst continuing to act for the group. An orchestrated lobbying campaign on behalf of iEngage since we issued our statement has only served to reinforce our opinion“

According to its website, iEngage (which also sometimes refers to itself as Engage) “is dedicated to promoting greater awareness, political participation and civic engagement among Muslims”. However, it also uses its website to post polemic about Israel.

In a recent post on the leaked Palestine Papers, i-Engage appeared to go as far as backing Hamas against the Palestinian Authority as the authentic voice of the Palestinians.

In a slightly garbled response to an editorial in the Independent on January 24, iEngage stated: “The PA’s complicity in the façade that is the peace process, and the ‘flagrant injustice’ meted out on Palestinians by both Israelis and their so-called leadership in the West Bank, strengthens Hamas’s hand not for its “thriv[ing] on the culture of martyrdom” or a “rigid hostility to Israel,’ as the Independent claims, but for its proving that when it seeks to represent the Palestinians in peace negotiations, that is exactly what it does.”

To press home the point, there is a link to Ken Livingstone’s 2009 interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in the New Statesman, in which the ex-London mayor argued for dialogue with Hamas.

On Thursday, Harlow Conservative MP and the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel Robert Halfon raised the issue in the House of Commons. He said: “iEngage has a track record of being aggressively antisemitic and homophobic, and has extensive links with terrorism in Tunisia and the Middle East.

“In its capacity as the secretariat, it now has access to the parliamentary estate.”

Sir George Young, the leader of the House, said there would be a debate on all-party parliamentary groups on Monday.

Last updated: 9:46am, February 4 2011