British Jewry’s leading communal security expert has explained why he felt obliged to help a Muslim group tackle Islamophobia.
Richard Benson, who retired as chief executive of the Community Security Trust last year after 12 years at the helm, was appointed co-chair of the Tell Mama group this week.
Tell Mama — the Mama stands for “measuring anti-Muslim attacks” — was set up to help British Muslims report discrimination and monitor incidents in a similar way to the CST’s recording of antisemitism. CST has worked closely with the group.
Mr Benson said Fiyaz Mughal, the anti-extremist campaigner who helped set up the group, had approached him to help take Tell Mama “to the next level, to have more success and ensure it has a future”.
“They wanted professional support and that’s why I considered it,” said Mr Benson. “I wanted to be a co-chair with someone from the Muslim community and that’s being finalised now. This won’t be a Muslim organisation led by someone from the Jewish community. My role is to take the expertise I’ve got from CST and give those tools to Tell Mama.”
In the part-time voluntary, role, Mr Benson will concentrate on forming an advisory board and recruiting trustees. Efforts will also be made to secure donations from the Muslim community.
Mr Benson, who remains on CST’s board, said: “I took this on in the best interests of the Jewish community as well. I felt this was part of the work CST does with engaging in other communities. It is part of our obligation to help.”
Mr Mughal was last year engaged in a legal battle with an Israel supporter who he claimed had defamed him on Twitter. He threatened the Jewish woman with libel proceedings after she allegedly criticised Tell Mama on the social networking site.
The case has not yet proceeded to the courts, and Mr Benson said: “One of the reasons I’m helping is to make sure things like that do not occur.”
It has also been proved that Mr Mughal’s organisation exaggerated figures relating to attacks on Muslims following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by Islamist extremists last year.
Government officials are said to have voiced concern at Tell Mama’s data-gathering methods, but Mr Benson said such stumbling blocks were to be expected: “CST has been attacked with accusations of over-inflated figures for years. Part of my job will be to give Tell Mama the systems to help ensure it doesn’t happen with them.”
Mr Mughal said: “CST has been the trailblazer in recording hate crime for the Jewish community and has set the benchmark.
“Richard spent 12 years building CST and his governance, leadership and support will take Tell Mama through its founding stages to a much higher level, and build confidence with the public.”
A CST spokesman said: “Over the years CST has helped many different organisations as part of our commitment to work for the benefit of everybody, inside and outside the Jewish community.
“We already support Tell Mama's efforts to tackle anti-Muslim hate crime and we are happy that Richard's expertise will be put to such good use."
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was also appointed as a patron of the group this week.