Labour MP Wes Streeting has been strongly criticised for his decision to speak at an event arranged by an organisation accused of “hosting extremist Islamist speakers”, with observers saying he should be “ashamed”.
Mr Streeting, who represents Ilford North, a constituency with thousands of Jewish voters, and is vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, is due to take part in an event advertised as launching “Islamophobia Awareness Month”, organised by the Muslim Engagement and Development group (Mend). Another Labour MP, Stephen Kinnock, is also due to attend.
In a report published today by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, MEND is accused of having “regularly hosted illiberal, intolerant and extremist Islamist speakers at public events”.
At its monthly meeting on Sunday, Marie Van der Zyl, vice president of the Board, said: “Mend is not an organisation we can work with”.
A number of other MPs who were also due to speak at the event, Anna Soubry, Crispin Blunt, Sir Ed Davey and Joanna Cherry, have all pulled out after being alerted to the nature of statements made by Mend. Ms Soubry said that the organisation does not “have the best of reputations”, while the other three MPs issued a statement saying: “It has become clear there is controversy over Mend’s record and claims of links between the organisation and extremist views”.
Maajid Nawaz, who founded the Quilliam counter-extremism think tank, addressed Mr Streeting and Mr Kinnock’s attendance on his LBC radio show.
“What are you two thinking? You should be ashamed of yourselves”, he said.
“There’s no way you should be involved with this organisation. If your colleagues have pulled out, what are you still doing involved with this event?”
Mr Streeting told the JC that “with prejudice against Muslims on the rise, I've made tackling Islamophobia locally and nationally a personal priority and I welcome Islamophobia Awareness Month as an opportunity to debate what each of us can do to stamp out pernicious bigotry, which is why I agreed to speak at the launch.
"I have been following the considerable controversy about reported comments by people associated with Mend closely and with serious concern. I know that some of these accounts are contested by the individuals concerned and Mend has both an opportunity and a responsibility to make it very clear what the organisation will and won't stand for.”
He added: It has been my experience at every local and national event I've attended, that Mend officials have talked about the importance of tackling antisemitism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice alongside Islamophobia, which is an approach I can support.
“I can not, and will never, support individuals or organisations that seek to - for example - justify attacks on British troops or resort to antisemitic tropes when debating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Nor is it in my character or nature to duck difficult conversations or debates. Tackling Islamophobia in our society and tackling the threat of violent extremism from hate-filled ideology requires difficult conversations and a battle of hearts and minds. So I will continue to engage widely and to take up opportunities and platforms to engage in difficult debate and to do so in my characteristically plain-speaking and uncompromising way."
In a statement released on Saturday, Mr Kinnock said: “I believe that one of my most important duties as a Member of Parliament is to actively seek opportunities to engage with people with whom I disagree.
“If we wish to win hearts and minds, then we must start by being prepared to engage constructively with people who hold a range of opinions – refusal or failure to do so simply fuels the narrative that the establishment is not listening.”
He added that he would “not hesitate in calling them [Mend] out and challenging them on the numerous actions and comments that I find totally unacceptable.”
Mend has been contacted for comment.