Lord Austin suspended by housing association over Hamas tweet

Peer receives death threats as he is hounded out of housing role


Ian Austin

Housing secretary Michael Gove has criticised a housing association for dropping independent peer Ian Austin as their chair after he tweeted calling Hamas a "death cult of Islamist murderers and rapists."

 Gove said he was seeking an "urgent meeting and explanation" from the housing association, which receives substantial public funding.

In the now-deleted post, Lord Austin ridiculed Unwra’s claim it had been unaware that Hamas was operating underneath its Gaza headquarters. He tweeted: “Everyone, better safe than sorry: before you go to bed, nip down and check you haven’t inadvertently got a death cult of Islamist murderers and rapists running their operations downstairs. It’s easily done.”

Mend, a Muslim campaign group, claimed that the tweet was Islamophobic. Online backlash led to the peer receiving a torrent of abuse, including several death threats made on X, formerly Twitter. Social media users with red triangles in their names – a symbol used to suggest support for Hamas – have also posted a barrage of derogatory and threatening posts aimed at the peer.

Lord Austin then deleted the post. He tweeted: “It was not my intention to offend anyone and I have deleted it.

“As I have written and said many times – including in a national newspaper today – the vast majority of Muslims are just as appalled by racism and terrorism as everyone else.”

Mend said that Lord Austin’s original tweet contained “humiliating stereotypes” which constitute "harassment towards Muslims”. The group mobilised its supporters with an “action alert” and created a “step-by-step" guide to lodge an official complaint against the peer.

The housing association Midland Heart’s decision to suspend Austin followed the Mend campaign. The Birmingham-based social landlord tweeted that it had suspended Lord Austin from the board of which he was chair and arranged a meeting “to discuss his removal from the board”.

In an email seen by industry publication Inside Housing, Midland Heart chief executive Glenn Harris said Lord Austin’s comments were “not endorsed by Midland Hart” and that his post was “not OK” and “offended people”.

The Mend campaign appeared to focus on Lord Austin’s description of Hamas as “Islamist murderers”.

“Islamist” is a term associated with those who advocate for Islamic fundamentalism. The term is regularly used to describe terrorist groups like Hamas and ISIS.

Lord Austin is one of Parliament’s most outspoken campaigners against antisemitism. He quit the Labour Party in 2019 after condemning the antisemitism that flourished during Jeremy Corbyn’s premiership.

The peer has also spoken out against the anti-Israel marches: “the people organising these marches... are not doing nearly enough to deal with the obscene racism.” Speaking on Sky News last week, he said “If the only country you campaign against - the only country you want to see abolished - is the only Jewish one, don’t tell me that you’re not an antisemite.”

On Saturday, Michael Gove said the former Labour minister “had spent his career fighting racism”.

Gove said he was “deeply concerned by Midland Heart’s actions” in removing Lord Austin from its board.”

Gove went on, “Not only is lan a champion for affordable housing, he has spent his career fighting racism. Islam is a religion of peace, but Islamists – including the proscribed terrorist organisation Hamas – are extremists characterised by violence and oppression who seek to undermine our democratic values. They must be challenged wherever we encounter them.”

A spokesman for Midland Heart said it did not have any further comment.

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