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UK’s largest Muslim charity cleared of institutional anti-Semitism

26th Feb 2021
UK’s largest Muslim charity cleared of institutional anti-Semitism

Dominic Grieve QC, Chair of the Independent Commission has cleared Islamic Relief of anti-Semitism (CC)

Nadine Osman

The UK’s largest Muslim charity has been acquitted of institutional anti-Semitism in an independent report after its reputation was badly damaged and government funding suspended over the social media posts of two trustees and a senior member of staff.

Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), a global NGO with an annual income of about £130 million, was a “highly effective charity” performing “crucial humanitarian work around the world,” said Chair of the Commission Dominic Grieve QC.

Importantly, while the inquiry found concerns with the composition of the charity’s board of directors and its organisational structure — which Islamic Relief has signalled plans to address — Grieve did not find any evidence that the offensive views articulated by the former senior director and two former trustees in any way compromised the impartiality or integrity of the organization’s humanitarian programmes.

“We found absolutely no evidence that the reputational issues that have arisen over the conduct of a few individuals has had any link to the way IRW carries out this charitable work,” he said.

The former Conservative Attorney General said there was no evidence of antisemitism in the NGO. “On the contrary, the charity has made a lot of effort to ensure there isn’t antisemitism, and I saw no evidence of it among staff whatsoever,” he said. The charity had been “horrified” when it discovered that Tayeb Abdoun, network and resource development director, had been tweeting antisemitic material under an alias, and had acted swiftly to deal with the individual, the commission concluded.

Abdoun was forced to resign. A few months earlier, it was revealed that two trustees had posted antisemitic comments on social media before they were appointed. A new board of trustees was appointed soon afterwards.
Along with the German and US governments, the UK Foreign Office suspended funding of the charity. IRW, which was the only Muslim charity on the Disasters Emergency Committee, withdrew from the body while the Charity Commission investigated.

Earlier this month, the Charity Commission said it was “satisfied that [IRW] took swift action, including to condemn the comments and ensure all three individuals left their roles.”
It added there had been “significant improvements to the recruitment and oversight of trustees and senior staff at the charity.”

Grieve’s report makes 19 recommendations to improve the charity’s governance, including more non-Muslim and independent trustees, a better gender balance in the organisation, updating its code of conduct and developing a new personal social media policy.

IRW said it was committed to fully implementing the report’s recommendations. Dr Ihab Saad, Chair of IRW Board of Trustees, said, “We thank Mr Grieve and Sir Clive for their report, the findings of which we accept in full. They have made a number of valuable recommendations to ensure Islamic Relief Worldwide’s trustees and other senior leaders uphold the highest standards and the values that we expect. We believe the Commission’s advice will help us become an even more effective humanitarian organisation going forward.”

Grieve said he was confident that “IRW will emerge with governance that is suitable for its purposes, puts it at the heart of the charities sector in the UK and enables it to sustain its crucial humanitarian work around the world”.

Grieve told The Muslim News “All charities must endeavour to ensure that the public views expressed by trustees and staff are not incompatible with the charitable purposes and thus at risk of causing the charity reputational damage. This needs a clear social media policy linked to a code of conduct and where necessary, a vetting process for social media. There is plenty of good practice available.”

Asked by The Muslim News why no stronger vetting procedure was already in place, a spokesman said, “Some of the offensive social media posts were made many years ago or under an alias, which makes it difficult to identify, and these recommendations will help our existing processes be more stringent.”

IRW say they “have been in regular dialogue with the Foreign Office throughout the past few months and we look forward to continuing our close relationship going forward… Now that the Charity Commission has closed its case and welcomed the steps we have taken, and given that we have committed to following all the recommendations made by the Independent Commission, we are hopeful that the FCDO will soon resume funding.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said, “We are closely assessing the findings from the independent commission and will make decisions with regard to our relationship with this charity in due course.”

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