London Citizens stand by Islamist hardliner

A community organising group, feted by politicians across the political spectrum for its grassroots activism, has defended its links to an Islamist hardliner who expressed his support for Hamas terrorist leaders.

London Citizens, currently on a recruitment drive in the Jewish community, models itself on the kind of "community organising" with which Barack Obama made his name in
Chicago.

David Cameron has embraced it as part of his "Big Society" agenda and Ed Miliband has said he wants Labour to use it as a model. The success of the organisation in the capital has led to the establishment of a national Citizens UK movement.

London Citizens this week issued a statement to the JC backing its deputy chair, Junaid Ahmed, despite statements he made at the height of Operation Cast Lead in support of Hamas fighters. Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK.

He pays tribute to Sheikh Yassin and Khaled Meshaal

In a video filmed at an event in East London in January 2009, Gaza: The Martyrs Meadow, Mr Ahmed made a speech on the "heroes of Palestine".

He was heard to say: "Every single resistance fighter is an example for all of us to follow. And every child that dies, we wish our children would be in that similar position who would wake up and realise the aggression that is taking place amongst the believers." He goes on to pay tribute to a series of Hamas members as leaders of the resistance against Israel. They include Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, who was killed by the Israelis in 2004, and his successor as leader of the terrorist organisation, Khaled Meshaal.

He also celebrates Sheikh Ezzden al-Qassam, killed by the British in 1935, after whom Hamas's military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades is named. The Qassam rockets, fired into Israel, are also named for him.

But London Citizens chair Paul O'Shea, principal of St Charles RC Sixth Form College, Ladbroke Grove, said he and his colleagues had studied the video at length and taken the view that Mr Ahmed "neither promotes or condones terrorism, nor expresses support for any proscribed organisation in what he said in that speech".

The statement continued: "Furthermore, as a result of this investigation, Mr Ahmed has reaffirmed his commitment today to working for the common good using the tools of politics and negotiation.

"He has again clarified, to my satisfaction, that he did not and does not condone terrorism and that he has consistently condemned all acts of terror on every platform on which he has spoken. Mr Ahmed concludes his statement by saying, ' My commitment to working for the common good and my desire to build and foster strong and mutually respectful inter faith relationships is on the record for all to see'."

Earlier this month, Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, and Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, appeared on a London Citizens platform to support the Living Wage campaign.

Matt Plen, movement director for the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, who sits as a trustee of London Citizens with Mr Ahmed, said: "We leave controversial or divisive issues at the door and, as a result, often end up finding common ground with surprising partners. I have no doubt that it is in the best interest of the Jewish community to invest in these relationships and to play an active part in London's diverse civil society."

Dave Rich, from the Community Security Trust, said: "Community structures can help build a strong, diverse society, and it is right that British Jews are involved in these efforts. However, it is always important to ensure that prospective partners do not have ulterior motives for this kind of engagement."

Last updated: 3:33pm, May 26 2011