Anger as activist who tweeted ‘victory to the intifada’ is handed £60k charity grant

Joshua Virasami was given the grant in July by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to fund a publication provisionally called Building Black Liberation


A controversial activist who tweeted “victory to the Intifada” has been awarded a £63,450 grant by a charity to create a book about black liberation, the JC can reveal.

Joshua Virasami was given the grant in July by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) as part of its “Rights and Justice” programme, which aims at “promoting rights and justice for minorities who face the most severe forms of racism”.

Mr Virasami describes himself as a second-generation immigrant who grew up in Hounslow, West London. He has been involved in various political movements including Occupy and Black Lives Matter.

His first book, How To Change It: Make a Difference, was published in 2020. The JRCT grant will fund a publication provisionally called Building Black Liberation over a period of 22 months.

He made a slew of extreme comments during and after the May 2021 Gaza clashes between Israel and Hamas.

That month he told a London rally that he backed armed resistance to “colonialism”.
He later tweeted a video of riots, writing: “Beautiful, powerful scenes from occupied Al-Lydd.

Victory to the intifada!” The disturbances he referred to took place in Lod, one of Israel’s most “mixed” cities with an Arab population of 30 per cent. It is well inside the Green Line.

In just over a week, rioters set fire to dozens of cars. Jewish property, including synagogues, was vandalised and burnt, with stones also being thrown at Jewish residents.

Mr Virasami continued to share remarks on the conflict throughout 2021, in which he referred to Israel as “a settler colonial apartheid state that, like apartheid South Africa, expresses genocidal racial violence”.

He claimed: “Israel most certainly inherited its character from European settler colonialism, and no doubt continued to be inspired by the pogroms, terror and anti-communist crusades the West sponsored across the last century.”

The Russian word pogrom entered English usage in the late 19th century as a term for the widespread antisemitic violence that erupted across the Russian Empire throughout the 1880s.

Mr Virasami also shared a 1979 quote from American writer James Baldwin: “The state of Israel was not created for the salvation of Jews, it was created for the salvation of western interests.”

In 2020 Mr Virasami, who identified himself as an “active member” of the UK Black Lives Matter movement, defended a tweet made by the group that suggested British politics was being “gagged of the right to critique Zionism”.

He told Emma Barnett’s Radio 5 Live show that the word “gagged” may have been insensitive, but argued that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism was stifling debate, explaining: “Part of what is happening with the IHRA definition is that you can’t have an honest conversation about Israel and Palestine. And so the tweet is literally that we have been unable to have an honest conversation.”

In November 2015, Mr Virasami appeared to equate Israel, the British government and a US white supremacist organisation, writing via Twitter: “#Israel, #KluKluxKlan and #10DowningStreet trending on FB [Facebook]. Looks like the three-faced ghouls have been busy this Halloween #BuildABonfire.”

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, said: “It is appalling that a leading charity has seen fit to make a substantial grant to Mr Virasami given his record of prejudiced and inflammatory remarks. The JRCT Trustees may have failed to give proper consideration to the damage to its reputation resulting from this grant.”

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism called the grant “mind-boggling” and said: “The charity should be looking to invest its considerable resources in those who seek to bring communities together, not those intent on driving them apart. We urge its trustees to reconsider and select a more worthwhile recipient.”

A JRCT spokesperson told the JC: “As a Trust which has funded in post-conflict areas, we understand there are many different experiences of conflict. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust made this ring-fenced grant for a specific piece of work to a publisher to support several contributors to compile Building Black Liberation (working title), a collection bringing together the many voices of those organising for anti-racism in the UK.

“JRCT awarded the restricted grant solely for this project, which will support up to 10 contributors to bring together the thoughts and learning of inspirational people and collectives working to challenge the persistent reality of systemic racism in Britain.

The publication will offer an evaluation of anti-racist work to date in order to learn from the wealth of experience of those involved in working for an equal and fair society.”

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission for England and Wales said it was “looking into the information provided” regarding Mr Virasami “to determine whether any regulatory action is required”.

JRCT has previously faced criticism for funding CAGE (formerly CagePrisoners) between 2007 and 2011. The London-based advocacy group has been outspoken in its opposition to the UK’s anti-terror laws.

In 2006 a spokesman for the group, its current research director Asim Qureshi, urged Muslims to support jihad at an Islamist rally.

The JC has approached Mr Virasami for comment.

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