an effort from some holy joes who just happen to be fanatically anti-socialist

Home Office-backed counter-extremism group waging Twitter campaign against Corbyn
Simon Hooper. Middle East Eye, Nov 8 2019

An interfaith organisation which has frequently attacked Jeremy Corbyn over allegations of antisemitism and which has described the Labour Party as a “Stalinist cult” is receiving support from the UK’s Home Office. Faith Matters receives funding through a Home Office counter-extremism programme, Building a Stronger Britain Together, which offers grants and other assistance including social media training to help recipient organisations to “amplify” their work. The organisation has regularly used its Twitter account to attack Corbyn, both directly and by retweeting critical articles. A number of those attacks have related to Corbyn’s handling of complaints of anti-Semitism within the party which have beset Labour since he was elected leader in 2015, but are by no means limited to that topic. It has also posted and shared content suggesting that Corbyn is sympathetic to Assad, supportive of governments and organisations responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and considered a threat to national security by British intelligence agencies. The Home Office’s funding for Faith Matters appears to raise fresh questions about political attacks on the leader of the official opposition by organisations benefiting from government support. Last year, the foreign office faced questions from Labour over its support for a Scottish-based think tank, The Institute for Statecraft, which was found to have shared material critical of Corbyn on its Twitter feed. Speaking in parliament about that case at the time, Labour foreign affairs spox Emily Thornberry said:

It is a cardinal rule of public life in our country that official resources should not be used for political purposes.

The head of the Institute for Statecraft was subsequently reported to have written to Corbyn to apologise for “mistakes” made by the organisation. Faith Matters describes itself as “a vehicle to enable faith communities to reduce conflict using conflict resolution tools,” and says that it works on “integration, cohesion, hate crime and countering extremism projects.” Its work has included providing “counter-messaging projects” and it lists government agencies among its stakeholders, according to public records filed by the organisation. The organisation is named as a recipient of support from the BSBT programme in a list published by the Home Office. The Home Office says in guidance for applicants:

The BSBT programme is built on a foundation of shared values, including democracy, free speech, mutual respect and opportunity for all.

It also says that organisations must be transparent about support they receive through the programme and would likely be required to acknowledge it on their websites. According to a Home Office evaluation published last month, more than £9m in grant support has been awarded to recipients since BSBT was launched in 2016, while in-kind communications support had been provided for 115 projects which had created 373 “products” to date. In-kind support is delivered by advertising agency M&C Saatchi and includes “support to develop communication materials or training in social media.” Middle East Eye contacted Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, to ask what support the organisation had received through the BSBT programme. In his response, Mughal refused to engage with the issues which MEE had raised, which included legitimate questions about the use to which Faith Matters puts public funds. After MEE followed up with further queries, Faith Matters took the extraordinary step of publishing a pre-emptive article on its website attacking both MEE as well as individuals at the organisation (below – RB). Bizarrely, Faith Matters suggested that for MEE to ask questions about a potential conflict of interest (namely, that Faith Matters is a recipient of government money yet mounts political attacks on the opposition leader) amounted to peddling a “conspiracy theory.” Faith Matters said it had used BSBT funding to “counter far-right and online extremism and promote civil society and democratic engagement to young people.” It said it had chosen not to highlight that funding because members of its staff had been subjected to “threats, intimidation and abuse.” It said it had not received social media training or assistance in counter-messaging from the Home Office. Defending its attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, it wrote:

Faith Matters has been and will continue to be critical of the poor way in which anti-Semitism has been tackled within the Labour Party and the way that Jeremy Corbyn has linked up with groups who have a very poor track record of relationships with communal Jewish organisations.

Faith Matters also stated that it had been equally strident in attacking the Conservatives over their approach to problems of Islamophobia within the party, including past comments by Boris Johnson. It is the case that Faith Matters and Mughal spoke out against Johnson’s comments in a newspaper column in Aug 2018 in which he compared Muslim women who wear the veil to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers,” and it has backed calls for an investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. But an analysis of Faith Matters’ tweets since it was listed by the Home Office as a recipient of BSBT support in Feb 2018 demonstrated that it has tweeted about Labour and Corbyn more than 200 times, while tweeting less than 40 times about the Conservatives, Johnson and Theresa May, his predecessor as party leader and prime minister. Either way, Faith Matters has not explained how its concerns about Labour and alleged anti-Semitism can possibly justify unrelated, purely political attacks on Corbyn with no conceivable relevance to the anti-Semitism issue, such as tweets describing a “Stalinist cult of Corbyn.” Faith Matters is also linked to another campaign group called Muslims Against Anti-Semitism (MAAS) which has been highly critical of Corbyn. In Sep 2018, it sent copies of a book by the former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks to Labour MPs after Sacks had described Corbyn as an anti-Semite and compared him to Enoch Powell, a Conservative politician who was accused of fuelling racism against immigrants in his so-called “rivers of blood” speech in 1968. Labour called the comments “absurd and offensive.”

While 30 Labour MPs were sent a copy of Sacks’ “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” Corbyn was also sent another Sacks book entitled “Lessons in Leadership.” Faith Matters said MAAS did not receive any government funding. Mughal, the founder of both Faith Matters and MAAS, has also written opinion articles and been quoted in stories attacking Corbyn. In March, Mughal was quoted in an interview with the Telegraph newspaper describing Corbyn as “utter poison,” telling the newspaper that he believed the politician had refused to meet him because of his links with Jewish groups. A Labour spox told the paper that the party was not aware of any request from Mughal to meet Corbyn. MEE asked Mughal to clarify whether he had made a request and to whom it was directed. Mughal did not respond. And in an opinion article in Haaretz in July, Mughal questioned Corbyn’s track record of pro-Palestinian activism, suggesting that “years of imbibing the conspiracy theories of the far left as well as political Islamists” had “led him into the realms of virulent conspiracism in relation to Israel.” Another article retweeted by Faith Matters last month was a comment piece by Azeem Ibrahim published on the Spectator website under the headline “Is Jeremy Corbyn a friend of all Muslims?” In a tweet thread promoting the article, Ibrahim, who is a Faith Matters patron, wrote:

I estimate that Corbyn has openly supported regimes and groups that have killed over 690,000 Muslims (the most conservative estimate).

In another tweet, Ibrahim suggested that Corbyn had not supported Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp fighting against the Syrian government during the country’s civil war because he supported Assad as an “anti-imperialist.” Faith Matters commented:

This is SO important. When Palestinians were massacred in the Yarmouk camps by Assad forces, was there a peep from Corbyn? Not a thing.

In fact, Corbyn has put his name to a number of parliamentary early day motions condemning the Syrian government since 2011, including motions in 2013 and 2014 specifically highlighting the plight of Palestinians and Syrians under attack and besieged in Yarmouk and other areas. Mughal and Faith Matters have had close links to successive Conservative-led governments. In 2012, Mughal set up the Tell MAMA project which monitors anti-Muslim hate crime with government funding. He currently sits on a panel of experts advising the Home Office-appointed Commission for Countering Extremism, and was a member of PM Cameron’s Extremism Task Force and an advisor to former deputy PM Nick Clegg on preventing radicalisation and extremism. MEE also asked the Home Office for details about the support it had provided to Faith Matters. A spox said:

The Building a Stronger Britain Together programme allows independent organisations to administer vital projects to tackle extremist narratives that can spread through communities. All groups undergo strict due diligence prior to being given funding and the support they receive is kept under constant review.

MEE Peddles Conspiracy Theories Against MAAS
Faith Matters, Oct 28 2019

We received correspondence from the Middle East Eye website which was not only bizarre, it promoted a conspiratorial line of questioning where the journalist explicitly made a link between Government support to counter extremism and promote shared values through the Building Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) programme and how “the government is using public funds to support political attacks on the leader of the opposition.” This is what the journalist, Simon Hooper, wrote in his e-mail: that there was a covert plan by Government to attack the leader of the opposition. It was suggested by him that Faith Matters and MAAS were involved in this conspiracy theory. Given the nature of his questions, we wanted to stipulate the following publicly, unlike groups like MEE, who have repeatedly deflected questions on where their funding comes from. Faith Matters has received no funding from the Prevent programme, unlike other groups who have been heavily funded and who continue to deny that funding whilst working with Muslim communities. At the very least these organisations should be open about it, as it tackles risk to our communities and country. We have received no social media training via the Home Office, unlike other organisations and we are proud to have developed MAAS, which receives no Government funding. Furthermore, we have received no assistance in counter-messaging from the Home Office. Hooper’s theory that the Government is funding an anti-Corbyn campaign is not only perverse, it brings into question how such a twisted conspiracy could have been formulated. Faith Matters has responded to the allegation and line of questioning in the below manner, which MEE journalist Simon Hooper purposefully claims he is not going to cite in his e-mail to us. It was the explicit comment below that he was instructed to use as our response and which he says he is not going to. So the question we ask is why not? Why is the Middle East Eye not willing to be transparent about its own funding or which state that money emanates from? The response we gave him was:

Given the irony that it is MEE who are apparently the beneficiary of political or State funding, it would be wholly inappropriate for us to provide any response to your unfounded and potentially defamatory assertions.

Instead, bypassing our explicit statement, Hooper said that he would use a statement that was marked as private and confidential by our solicitor. Breaking a trust, hardly good practice from from a journalist, he stated in an e-mail that he would use the following comment from our defamation and libel solicitor:

Faith Matters received (BSBT support) from the Home Office and acts without fear or favour in its criticisms of anyone including politicians or political parties whose words or actions risk stirring up anti-religious hatred. It does so, and will continue to do so, from wherever such words or actions emanate.

The BSBT programme is separate to the counter-terrorism strategy and was developed to build resilient communities against all forms of extremism. We utilized that funding to counter far right and online extremism and promote civil society and democratic engagement to young people, hardly any secretive ploy to attack Jeremy Corbyn. Given that a number of our staff have been subjected to repeated and long-term threats, intimidation and abuse, we made a decision not to highlight this support publicly, but did do so to partner organisations and those working within the anti-extremism (far right) activities, so that they were aware. This is perfectly reasonable given the long term threats to colleagues and to our organisation, including threats to mob our offices by anti-Muslim activists. Faith Matters has been and will continue to be critical of the poor way in which anti-Semitism has been tackled within the Labour Party and the way that Jeremy Corbyn has linked up with groups who have a very poor track record of relationships with communal Jewish organisations. Correspondingly, we have consistently been critical of the Conservative Party and their lack of transparency and action around stamping out anti-Muslim bigotry within parts of their membership base. Notably, MEE have missed this element out and focused on the former. It is also interesting to note what respected BBC journalist Daniel Sandford said of MEE in Aug 2019:

The story about the Home Office secretly funding the “This is woke” social media brand was brought to us by MEE, whose funder is unknown. Sigh. They are all at it. Basically what you do is run a “news” or “issues” web-site or brand. Put all kinds of content interesting to your target audience on it, and then slip in hidden messages or a deliberate editorial slant.

Sandford clearly understood MEE is about. Little information can be found on the funding sources of Middle East Eye. MEE’s editor in chief David Hearst, a former foreign correspondent for The Guardian, has refused to highlight where the site’s financing comes from. He has previously stated that it comes from “individual private donors.” So much for the transparency that they try and enforce on others. Hearst has previously written articles somewhat fawningly entitled “It’s open season on the MB and “Why the West Cannot Afford to Ignore Political Islam.” In an article for Middle East Monitor in Feb 2019, Hearst commented on the cancelling of a Parliamentary room booked for the controversial Chris Williamson MP where the film ‘WitchHunt,’ sympathetic to Labour activist Jackie Walker, was to be shown. Hearst stated:

The debate about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is all about Israel, and whether indeed anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. The problem lies with the Board of Deputies, which claims to speak for all Jews in Britain. These are the leaders who have appointed themselves judge, jury and hangmen in each and every allegation of anti-Semitism.

For Hearst to reject what was at its heart calls to tackle anti-Semitism in Labour, betrays any empathy or understanding for Jewish MPs like Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman or Ruth Smeeth. Additionally, Hearst’s attack on a respected communal organization where Board members are elected and held accountable by members of Jewish communities, was not only uncalled-for; it deflected from the abhorrent and misjudged comments by Walker, who previously said:

In terms of Holocaust Day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all people who experience Holocaust?

This seems like a noble sentiment and when challenged that Holocaust Memorial Day included other genocides such as Rwanda and Srebrenica, she stated that it was not ‘advertised’ as such, which was patently untrue. Al Jazeera connections with Middle East Eye also should raise eyebrows as to who finances this outlet. The Director of Middle East Eye Ltd is Jamal Bassasso, a former director of planning and human resources at Al Jazeera. It is also known that Jonathan Powell, who worked with Al Jazeera since 2009, was one of the founding members who supported the infrastructural set up of MEE. Powell worked for around 6 months to support the set up of MEE before returning to Doha to carry on his work for Al Jazeera. Bassasso was a former director for Samalink, which in turn was the registered agent for the website of the Hamas-linked Al-Quds TV. Hamas’ anti-Semitism is well known, and let us not forget that Hamas recently saluted Jeremy Corbyn for his support for a pro-Palestinian rally in which a speaker stated that Jewish organisations are ‘in the gutter’ and are ‘part of the problem.’ Al Jazeera and the state that funds it, through its associations with some of the individuals mentioned above need to be highlighted. Remember this is the same state that gave sanctuary to one of the MB’s religious leadership, Yusuf-Al-Qaradawi, who has been barred entry into the UK. It is precisely individuals like Qaradawi who have promoted anti-Semitism, when he has issued fatwas authorizing attacks on all Jews. On Al-Jazeera Arabic in Jan 2009, he said:

O God, take Your enemies, the enemies of Islam! O God, take the treacherous Jewish aggressors! O God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none!

It is precisely this kind of hatred that MAAS was developed to challenge. Individuals like Qaradawi who were previously feted by the likes of Ken Livingstone need to be challenged. Corbyn attended events in Doha in 2012, and in an interview with Press TV praised his ‘brothers,’ some of whom were speakers from questionable organisations. At this very conference was Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political voice, and Dr Abd’ul-Aziz Umar, who was given seven life sentences for his role in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. So let’s be clear; Corbyn’s approach on tackling anti-Semitism has been abysmal and duplicitous. MAAS will challenge and hold to account such two-faced leadership. Until Jewish members and individuals feel that they have a home in Labour, and until they feel that the leadership demonstrates tackling this hate, we will continue to critique this kind of behaviour. Attempts by sites like MEE to intimidate and bully us will not be tolerated. MAAS will continue to speak out as will Faith Matters which was founded on building better relations between Muslims and Jews; this is something that we know Corbyn has yet to enact through his actions. Instead he chooses to play off one community against the other. Many Labour MP’s and members support our work. They have done so for many years and they continue to do so because we have challenged those who seek to divide and play off communities. Finally, conspiracy theories suggesting that the BSBT programme is a covert mechanism to undermine Corbyn through not-for-profit organisations is not only perverse, it reeks of conspiracies that form the bedrock of parts of the hard left today. We don’t need to be critical of Corbyn or Boris Johnson for that matter because of a ‘higher’ plan. It is pretty simple; Corbyn has failed Labour and the leadership needed by many. This country needs a strong opposition. It needs a Labour Party that can hold the Executive and the Government to account, particularly at this turbulent time. For us, it is clear that Corbyn has fallen short of providing that.

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