Inside the Anne Frank Trust: how the charity lost its way

Hamas sympathisers and radical poets were invited to speak at workshops


They are hardly obvious bedfellows: the Anne Frank Trust UK and an activist who has condemned “Zionist scum”, compared Jews to Nazis and justified Hamas rocket attacks.

But last week, the charity founded in Anne Frank’s name was forced to apologise for inviting Nasima Begum – a “performance poet, producer and creative practitioner” – to host one of its storytelling workshops.

“What’s sad is that the Jewish population faced genocide themselves in Hitler’s Germany but they’ve implemented the same on Palestine for years,” wrote Ms Begum on Twitter in 2011.

A year later, she wrote: “It’s the Holocaust all over again, except this time it’s innocent Palestinians and ironically the perpetrators are you Zionist scum.”

As if there was any doubt, later the same day she reiterated: “You will always remain an illegal state. Death to you Zionist scum.”

After a furious backlash, the Trust issued an “unreserved apology”, admitting that the debacle represented “a failure in due diligence”.

But social media accounts reveal that Ms Begum has chatted frequently and cordially with the charity’s Assistant Director for Youth Empowerment, Amna Abdullatif, in the past.

In an exchange last year, the controversial poet wrote to the Trust employee: “Omg Amna you look the cutest”. She added: “I was aiming to drop you all a message but it’s been go go go as you can imagine. Hope you’re well Amna xx”.

As well as working for the Trust, Ms Abdullatif is a Labour councillor representing Ardwick, Central Manchester, who has stridently supported former party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Writing on Twitter in July 2019, she said: “Change is coming, and it’s coming very soon @jeremycorbyn.”

The Nasima Begum affair is just the tip of the iceberg. The JC can confirm that in recent years, the Anne Frank Trust has promoted other speakers with a history of incendiary statements about Israel and Jews, raising serious questions about the charity’s culture and governance.

In November 2021, during Anti-Bullying Week, the Trust ran an online discussion on the “power of kindness” featuring children’s book author Onjali Raúf.

In 2021, Ms Raúf shared a video of Jews dancing defiantly at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day as fire burned amid clashes on Temple Mount, and made a comparison between this and atrocities that Jews endured in Nazi Germany.

She commented: “It makes me wonder on (sic) just how quickly some people can forget their own awful histories.

“I visited and paid homage to synagogues in Germany where Jewish peoples were forced to endure just such nights.” In March 2021, the Trust hosted an interactive online session entitled “what it takes to achieve an equal future”. The speaker was campaigner Iffat Shahnaz, who in 2014 had declared on Twitter her support for an arms embargo against Israel.

More recently, Ms Begum’s workshop included a video of a Black Lives Matter-inspired poem by Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, who goes by the moniker “The Brown Hijabi” and has performed alongside radical anti-Zionist rapper Lowkey.

Ms Manzoor-Khan has shared an image of Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled – who hijacked a plane in 1969 and attempted to hijack another in 1970 – with the words “long live free Palestine”.

The activist added: “Palestine matters for all of us … because we are witnessing genocide.”

In 2020, Ms Manzoor-Khan took to Twitter to suggest that antisemitism was being used for political purposes.

“Concern about antisemitism deployed only when convenient is not the mark of anti-racism, but the mark of cynical political agendas,” she opined.

In 2018, she performed a poem at an event organised by CAGE, whose research director, Asim Qureshi, told a 2006 rally: “When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel we know what the solution is and where the victory lies”. The same year, Ms Manzoor-Khan contributed a poem to a book written by Mr Qureshi.

In 2021, Amjid Khazir, a “diversity and equality consultant”, was a guest speaker at an event the Trust held for Stephen Lawrence Day. In 2017, he had shared an “emergency appeal” for donations for CAGE. Mr Khazir told the JC he did not remember doing so.

He added: “I am very proud of my work with the [Anne Frank Trust] and will always stand against anti-semitism.”

For International Women’s Day (IWD) this year, the Anne Frank Trust promoted American novelist Alice Walker as a female icon, despite the fact that she has repeatedly endorsed the work of antisemitic conspiracy theorist David Icke.

In 2018, Ms Walker told the New York Times she kept Mr Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free on her nightstand. Journalist Yair Rosenberg has described the book as “an unhinged antisemitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain’s most notorious antisemites”.

An equalities plan provided by the Trust in 2020 discloses that just nine per cent of its employees identified their religion as Jewish, while 40 per cent were Christian. Fewer than half of its trustees are Jewish.

This is not necessarily a problem in itself. But tackling antisemitism no longer appears to be the charity’s top priority.

Other forms of racism are being prioritised, accompanied by trendy buzzwords such as “lived experience”.

In 2020, recruitment agency Peridot Partners posted online: “The Anne Frank Trust is looking for trustees as they embark on a new strategy targeted at young people with lived experience of prejudice.”

Astonishingly, it added: “The Trust is particularly keen to address anti-black racism as a priority.”

Critics say that all of this points to a cultural malaise at the charity, fearing that the organisation entrusted with Anne Frank’s legacy has lost its way.

A spokesperson from the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “The Anne Frank Trust’s association with Nasima Begum could be shrugged off as a simple lapse in due diligence if it were a one-off incident. But it isn’t.

“Time after time, the Trust has platformed or boosted people with horrifying views about Jews. For any charity, let alone one charged with education against prejudice, this would be gravely concerning.

“For an organisation that purports to act in the name of a Jewish girl murdered by the Nazis because she was Jewish, it is scandalous.

“This is a wake-up call for the Anne Frank Trust, not just to review its processes but to reexamine its goal of universalising the Holocaust, which has time and again led it to amplify the voices of people prejudiced against Jews.

“It is hard to imagine what Anne Frank would have made of the Trust that has appropriated her name and claims to act in her memory.”

A scan of the biographies of the Trust’s 33-strong team appears to suggest a narrow political culture at all levels of the organisation.

It is run by CEO Tim Robertson, a Quaker who divides his time between his home in Bloomsbury and his second home in the Lake District with his husband, Neil. When approached by the JC, he claimed that he did not, however, support the Quakers’ boycott of settlement goods or companies “profiting from the occupation of Palestine”. Mr Robertson also chairs Friendly Welcome, a “a group of Londoners who are responding to the refugee crisis by supporting a refugee family to come to London and settle here”.

The Trust’s Fundraising and Database Assistant, Celena Davies, has volunteered for Amnesty International. When questioned by the JC, she said she did not, however, share Amnesty’s vision of Israel as an “apartheid state”.

Meanwhile, Samantha Winnard, who represents the charity in the northeast, highlights her time as an “LGBTQIA+ Union Representative”.

The list goes on. This institutional culture, with its emphasis on identity politics and the social justice agenda, is apparently reflected in some of the educational activities staged by the Trust.

The poem performed for the charity by Suhaiymah “The Brown Hijabi” Manzoor-Khan, “Breathlessness is not a Momentary Condition”, was originally commissioned by Birkbeck School of Law as a response to Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Us whose breathing threatens the sordid sighs of the global elite,” she intoned, “our air is funnelled directly to them.” All of this has led many in the community to ask serious questions about the extent to which the charity has departed from its founding principles and the legacy of Anne Frank.

Founded in 1991, the organisation appears to have crept away from the antisemitism faced by the world’s most famous Holocaust victim to a campaign against “prejudice in all its forms”, mixed with a trendy social justice agenda.

Writing upon her retirement in 2016, co-founder Gillian Walnes said that when the Trust was created “the charity defined itself firmly in the fields of Holocaust and anti-racism education”.

Today, however, the Trust’s website lists its values as “equality, learning, positivity, integrity, and environmental responsibility”.

In a statement provided to the JC, Mr Robertson said: “I absolutely acknowledge the serious concerns raised about some of the speakers, facilitators and public figures we have used in our recent events and social media.

“It is clear, as we found in our recent investigation, that we have had a real problem with due diligence and vetting processes. I understand why, against a backdrop of growing antisemitism, people are seeking assurances about our values and ethos.

“Our failures have left us vulnerable to loss of trust. Addressing this is my highest priority.”

The Trust values the “lived experience” of Jewish people and takes great care to teach about Anne’s Jewish identity in its “unique historic context”, Mr Robertson added.

He continued: “Far from universalising, we find that it is through the specificity of Anne’s story that students learn how antisemitism works, become committed to challenging it, and then extend their learning to other forms of prejudice.”

The Trust has been highly successful in raising funds from both the public and private sectors. On its website until this week it listed 14 corporate backers, including the Chelsea Football Club Foundation, but the corporate sponsors’ page appears to have been taken down after inquiries from the JC.

Its accounts for the five years to 2020 show that it received more than £3.1 million in public and private sector trust grants. In 2020 alone, the latest year for which figures are available, the Trust was given £206,522 by the Department of Education, a further £73,655 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and £47, 791 by the Home Office’s Building a Stronger Britain Programme.

Public sector grants amounted to 73 per cent of its trust grant income in 2020, alongside private donations.

An earlier version of this story included wording that implied that Sahaiymah “The Brown Hijabi” Manzoor-Khan performed at an Anne Frank Trust UK workshop. In fact, a video of one of her previous performances was played at the workshop without her knowledge. We are happy to correct this.

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