Anti-Semitism and Apology for Terrorism: Cascading Resignations from the Head of the Islamist NGO Islamic Relief



Ian Hamel (*)

In rapid succession, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Britain’s leading Muslim NGO, was forced to get rid of two of its key leaders. The first for antisemitic writings, the next for singing the praises of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Heshmat Khalifa doesn’t really do things by half. According to his prose on social networks, revealed in August by The Times, Jews are “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs” As for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, he is described as a “Zionist pimp” and “Zionist criminal”.

The problem is that Heshmat Khalifa is not an obscure collaborator of Islamic Relief, but its director and one of its administrators, who joined the NGO in 1999. A man respectable enough to be received by Princess Anne, the royal princess, as shown in an illustration in the British daily newspaper. Heshmat Khalifa flatly apologised, swearing that he did not want to “insult the Jewish community”, and that he did not have “antisemitic opinions”. “I devoted a large part of my life to promoting tolerance and freedom of religion and belief, he swears.

Likely with regret, faced with the scandal, Islamic Relief was forced to do without his services. This NGO, founded in 1984 and based in Birmingham, swears that it acts “in strict neutrality, without distinction of race, sex or religion”. But apparently, the charity, which has a hundred offices in forty countries around the world, has not been very happy to immediately appoint a successor, in the person of Almoutaz Tayara. Nor does the latter seem to cultivate an unbounded admiration for Israel, which he calls a “Zionist enemy”. Previously a member of the German branch of Islamic Relief, he considered Hamas to be “the purest resistance movement in modern history”, and its leaders were “great men who responded to the divine call of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Knowing that Hamas, through its military wing, the Izza al-Din al-Qassem brigades, is considered by the European Union and the United Kingdom as a terrorist organisation.

On the one hand, this statement is rather embarrassing for Islamic Relief, which has always claimed to have no connection with the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand, Almoutaz Tayara’s writings, which date back to 2014 and 2015, were known to the German branch of Islamic Relief, which nevertheless allowed him to remain in its board of directors. Like his predecessor, Almoutaz Tayara immediately declared that he “deeply regrets his texts”, written in a state of distress due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He swore that he did not support the Muslim Brotherhood and that he was not antisemitic. But he suffered the same fate as Heshmat Khalifa, namely the (at least official) expulsion from the NGO.

Despite this great clean-up and its condemnation of antisemitism, its rejection of terrorism, and its willingness to seek to maintain “the highest standards of neutrality”, Islamic Relief Worldwide emerged seriously weakened after the Time revelations. Behind the islamist NGO’s fine declarations of intent, the media and public opinion are wondering of questioning the true values that this charitable institution is defending underhand.

All the more so as it has made a speciality of working in countries and areas deemed inaccessible, such as Somalia, Yemen, or Idlib, in Syria. Does it only provide food, medicine and care to populations? Or does it espouse the ideas of radical Islamist groups that are active in these countries?

Moreover, it is astonishing that Islamic Relief’s senior managers, whom we imagine to be very cautious, can sometimes let loose on social networks. The British daily reminds us that Islamic Relief receives very substantial subsidies from international organizations. Starting with the UN, of which it is a consultative member at the Economic and Social Council in Geneva! The NGO’s financial partners include the European Union, the WFP (World Food Programme), the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the WHO, UNICEF, the National Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies, etc.

Between 2009 and 2018, Islamic Relief’s budget would have been, according to Time magazine, £966 million (€1.06 billion). In its annual report for 2018, the NGO claims to have provided emergency aid to 3.9 million people, supported 60,000 orphans, and improved “three million five hundred thousand lives through its development projects”.

Long before 11 September 2001, Islamic Relief was suspected of having links with the Muslim Brotherhood and even Al-Qaeda. On 16 March 2000, the French confidential letter Le Monde du Renseignement (now Intelligence Online), in an article entitled “Saudi Arabia: who really wants to stop bin Laden”, referred to “several structures that notoriously support Al-Qaeda, Osama’s Islamist organisation. Such is the case of Islamic Relief, a charity linked to the Muslim Brotherhood Organisation, which is particularly present in Albania and the Caucasus”.

However, the British NGO’s connections with the Brotherhood and with the jihadist movement, which are often mentioned, have never been formally proven. And in France, Secours Islamique has, against all evidence, always claimed not to have ties with its big brother based in Birmingham.