Activist who saluted Hamas is welcomed to Parliament

Call for inquiry into how hardliner and other controversial guests were able to rub shoulders with peers and Labour Party MPs at reception


Ismail Patel speaks at March For Palestine (Photo: Alamy)

An Islamic hardliner who has defended Hamas attended a reception at Parliament hosted by a charity headed by the chief Muslim chaplain to Britain’s armed forces, the JC can reveal.

Anti-Israel activist Ismail Patel, who has met Hamas leaders in Gaza and “saluted” the group for “standing up to Israel”, was among the guests mingling with MPs and peers.

Also present at the 18 January event was the head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which is boycotted by the government over its alleged links to extremism. When it emerged in November that the MCB was being used by Ministry of Defence officials to help recruit further Muslim chaplains, ministers issued an order that this must stop immediately.

Another reception guest was preacher Sheikh Ramzy, who has led recent protests at which marchers called for a new “intifada” and defended Labour’s Rochdale candidate after he was dropped by the party for inflammatory statements about Israel.

The Ministry of Defence said that the host, Imam Asim Hafiz, who has served as Islamic religious adviser to the Chief of the Defence Staff since 2005 and was awarded an MBE in 2014, did not draw up the guest list and has long opposed extremism.

Leading parliamentarians told the JC they were concerned that individuals with views such as those expressed by Patel had been able to attend an event inside the palace of Westminster.

The former Labour MP Lord Ian Austin called for an inquiry into how this had taken place, saying Parliament should consider new measures to prevent extremists being given a “veneer of respectability”. 

The JC has learnt that Hafiz was a member of a 30-strong WhatsApp group set up in 2020 to combat “Islamophobia” that included Patel, Ramzy and Mohammed Kozbar, now the MCB’s deputy secretary-general, who, like Patel, has met Hamas leaders in Gaza.

There is no suggestion that Hafiz endorses their views. His solicitor told the JC that “Our client’s work [...] in breaking down barriers and challenging extremism inevitably leads him to engage with individuals who hold a range of views, including sometimes very different to his own.”

When Hafiz took to the podium at the Commons reception to welcome the charity’s guests, they included Patel. As the JC revealed in October, Patel was filmed at a rally in 2009 saying: “Hamas is no terrorist organisation. The reason they hate Hamas is because they refuse to be subjugated, to be occupied by the Israeli state, and we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel.”

Patel added: “We are all Hamas,” and attacked the Board of Deputies for “bringing shame” on Jews by supporting Israel.

Patel is founder and leader of Friends of al-Aqsa, one of the organisations behind the anti-Israel marches that have taken place almost weekly since October 7.

An outspoken supporter of the sacked anti-Zionist Bristol professor David Miller, he  praised the killer of tour guide Eli Kay in Jerusalem as a “martyr” on Twitter in 2021.

Photos taken at  the Commons event show other guests included Labour MP Sam Tarry, who ran Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the party’s leadership, and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.

Hafiz hosted the reception to raise the profile of the Avicenna Foundation, an educational charity he founded two years ago to give scholarships to Muslim students and to encourage them to enter public life. He is its president and trustee.

Another guest was Zara Mohammed, General Secretary of the MCB. 

The then-Labour government broke off ties with the MCB in 2009, after its then-deputy leader Daud Abdullah signed the “Istanbul Declaration”, which said the “Islamic Nation” should “carry on with the jihad and resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine”. It further demanded that Muslims ensure “money, clothing, food, medicine, weapons and other essentials” were able to enter Gaza so that Palestinians could “perform the jihad in the way of Allah Almighty”.

The official boycott of the MCB remains in place. Ministers ordered a further crackdown on government contact with the group in October after The Telegraph revealed MoD officials had been seeking help from the MCB to identify and “endorse” suitable Muslim armed forces chaplains to work under Hafiz.

The MCB’s deputy leader Kozbar, who was a member of the 2020 WhatsApp group that included Hafiz and Patel, visited the grave of the terror group’s founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2015. Kozbar praised him as “the master of the martyrs of resistance, the mujahid [holy warrior] sheikh, the teacher”.

Another member of the group chat was Miqdad Versi, the MCB director of media monitoring.

The Jewish interfaith activist Laura Marks, who founded the Mitzvah Day charity and chairs the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, told the JC she was surprised by the presence of those holding controversial views at the event and regarded Hafiz as an ally.

“I have worked with Imam Hafiz for nearly ten years and his commitment to fighting extremism and antisemitism and to encouraging moderation and integration is truly exceptional and brave,” she said.

“We have been discussing ways to connect the exceptional young Muslims in Avicenna with Jewish counterparts which would be a long term investment in our shared commitment to building an open and tolerant society.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told the JC: “We have full confidence in Imam Asim Hafiz, who has a strong history of working with the Jewish Community and challenging extremism. This includes deploying to Afghanistan to challenge extremist ideology.

“Imam Hafiz attended the event in a personal capacity. The event was attended by around 200, and Imam Hafiz had no involvement in the invite list.” Asked by the JC how Patel, Ramzy and Mohammed had come to be present, the spokesperson did not reply.

The JC understands that several representatives of the Jewish community were also at the gathering.

MCB leaders attended a more recent Commons event on 6 March, when they launched a report on coverage of the Gaza war by the group’s Centre for Media Monitoring. Among the speakers were Labour MP Afzal Khan, Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi and Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian doctor and activist.

In a recent TV interview with George Galloway, Karmi described the October 7 atrocities as “wonderful”, saying it was “admirable that the Hamas fighters exploded this whole rotten structure”.​

Cross bench peer Austin told the JC:  “What on earth is going on when Members of Parliament are attending meetings with people like this? There needs to be an enquiry to establish who booked these rooms, who was invited, who attended and what was said, and new measures need to be put in place to prevent Parliament being used to give extremists the veneer of respectability.”

Lord Carlile, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said he too was concerned: “I think that parliamentarians are under a heavy duty to ensure that extremists should not be invited on to the parliamentary estate, and should be able to check with the security authorities for reassurance in cases of doubt.” 

This article previously stated that Zara Mohammed formerly worked at Mend (Muslim Engagement and Development). This was incorrect and the article has been amended, with apologies to Mohammed

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