Rabbi 'in pain' over London Citizens link

Jewish leaders working with "community organisers" London Citizens this week sought to justify their association with an organisation whose deputy chair has described Hamas terrorists as "heroes".

The JC last week revealed that Junaid Ahmed, who represents East London Mosque on the board of London Citizens, had given a speech at a public meeting in 2009 at the height of Operation Cast Lead in which he paid tribute to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, its present leadership and Sheikh al-Qassam, after whom the military wing of Hamas was named.

Several senior officials at London Citizens viewed a video of Mr Ahmed supplied by the JC and issued a statement saying they took the view "that he neither promotes or condones terrorism, nor expresses support for any proscribed organization in what he said in that speech".

London Citizens founder Neil Jameson this week said: "London Citizens Trustees take very seriously the original issues you raised with us and will be holding two trustees meetings in June to discuss the matter." Meanwhile, Mr Ahmed remains a trustee.

We must take risks to engage with each other

As the controversy deepened, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon told New London Synagogue in his weekly address: "I've watched the speech and I'm in pain as these people, who inspire terrorist atrocities, are held up as heroes."

Rabbi Gordon said he remained a supporter of London Citizens. "Someone has to care about bringing diverse communities together and I have met no-one who does that better than London Citizens."

At the New North London Synagogue, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg also wrote to members. He said: "The JC named me today for my participation in events held by London Citizens, criticising the organisation because of the role within it of a Muslim leader who, the paper shows, expressed support for Hamas during the Gaza war. I abhor such views and expect London Citizens to take this matter most seriously."

However, he argued that dialogue should continue. "We have to take risks to engage with each other. The Jewish community will be far weaker if we all shelter within a comfort zone labelled 'They all hate us out there'."

London Citizens has been hailed by figures from across the political spectrum as a model for the future of political activism in the UK. From small roots in East London it has grown into a national movement, Citizens UK.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband have both been to its events, which are attended by hundreds of people. It enjoys the support of Red Tory author Phillip Blond, and Mr Miliband's mentor, the Jewish academic Lord Glasman.

This week, former cabinet minister James Purnell said he would not resign as a trustee of Citizens UK over the revelations about Mr Ahmed.

Mr Purnell sits on the board with Dr Manazir Ahsan, a Bangladeshi Islamic scholar who represents the Islamic Foundation, an institution founded by fundamentalist party Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

New concerns about London Citizens and its links to radicals emerged this week after the anti-Islamist website Harry's Place tracked down an interview with Mr Jameson on the Islam Channel, recorded last March, in which he responded to revelations about extremist preaching at East London Mosque in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary.

Mr Jameson told the Islam Channel that he backed the mosque, and its sister organisation Islamic Forum Europe: "Both organisations are straightforward, sensible, excellent at developing and nurturing young people in proper behaviour in a democracy."

V see comment, p23

Last updated: 12:14pm, June 2 2011