A new parliamentary group set up to tackle Islamophobia has been forced to end its partnership with a controversial Muslim organisation which has campaigned against “Zionist” teachings at Jewish schools. It has also defended radical Islamist preachers and targeted moderate Muslim groups which raised concerns about the rise of Islamist politics in Britain.
Eyebrows were raised last month when the new group, chaired by Conservative MP Kris Hopkins, announced that Engage would provide its administrative secretariat. However, Mr Hopkins was this week persuaded to ask the organisation, (not to be confused with the identically-named antisemitism monitoring group), to withdraw its offer of support. The change of heart followed a detailed online attack on the organisation by former Tory MP and communities spokesman Paul Goodman, who is now executive editor of the Conservative Home website.
According to its publicity, Engage is “dedicated to promoting greater media awareness, political participation and civic engagement amongst Muslims.” However, the organisation also has an explicit anti-Zionist agenda with regular posts on its website about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The organisation argues that the injustice of the treatment of Palestinians feeds global Islamophobia.
The new parliamentary group to tackle Islamophobia boasts Labour peer Lord Janner and Liberal Democrat President Simon Hughes as its vice-chairs and also enjoys the support of former Labour Justice Secretary Jack Straw. The JC understands that at least one former Labour minister warned Lord Janner to steer clear of Engage and senior members of the Jewish community have also raised their concerns.
Mr Hopkins and Lord Janner agreed on Tuesday to drop Engage. However, in a surprise move, Simon Hughes issued a statement backing the organisation: “Engage is an organisation which promotes the participation and engagement of young Muslims in the public sphere. Occasionally this may mean that the group represents views that others may disagree with.
"But as long as they stay within the law and enter into the sprit of a democratic dialogue, I have no problem with them providing support to the APPG on Islamophobia, a group which exists precisely to advance reasoned debate on faith issues in our country.”
In June, Mohammed Asif, chief executive of Engage, wrote to Education Secretary Michael Gove to express his opposition to Zionism being taught in Jewish schools. "Zionism is not part of the Jewish faith," he wrote. "It is a political ideology which has its roots in the works of Theodore Herzl and subsequent ideologues that have advanced the idea of a national struggle to establish a homeland for the Jews in the modern era."
The Engage website described Sunday Telegraph reporter Andrew Gilligan as “deranged” after he raised questions about whether the organisation was independent enough to perform the functions of secretariat to the all-party group. In recent years the group has defended the right of radical Muslim preachers to come to Britain and express their views and opposed the ban on extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir from university campuses.
Engage has also challenged those who condemned the Muslim Council of Britain’s Daud Abdullah for signing the Istanbul Declaration, which urged attacks on the British navy.
One comment on the Engage post announcing the establishment of the Islamophobia group said: “Jews and Christian scholars, the so called Western Orientals have always tried to mispresent Islam in their writings. They have always tried to spread baseless lies against Islam in a very authentic and scholarly style, hiding their deep rooted hatred against Islam.”
The equivalent parliamentary group on antisemitism is run by the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism Foundation, an independent charity specifically set up for the purpose. Danny Stone, director of the PCAA Foundation and secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism said: "I am 100 per cent behind an all-party group on Islamophobia and have offered my support to its chair, Kris Hopkins MP. Any secretariat would, of course, have to be beyond reproach as regards racism and antisemitism."