A co-founder of a government-supported women’s network praised by Theresa May for tackling extremism has profusely apologised after it was revealed she and a colleague in the organisation had posted conspiracy theories about Israel on social media.
Odara, based in the West Midlands, runs workshops on personal and educational development and provides a “safe environment for discussion on issues like domestic violence, mental health and extremism”, according to a press release produced following a visit last summer by May, then Home Secretary. She praised the organisation at the time for working “to stand up against the extremists who seek to divide us”.
But Jewish News has learnt of social media entries promoting conspiracy theories about Israel, including by co-founder Aysha Iqbal, who posted a link on Facebook in 2013 to a video in which it is claimed Israel was responsible for one of America’s worst mass shootings at Sandy Hook primary school in America. Above the link she wrote: “Check this out!! Truth be told! @:” The video shows a US news show in which the interviewee claims the fatal attack was “revenge” for Israel’s failure to thwart the recognition of Palestine at the UN and that a cover-up would ensue because politicians are “bought by the Israel lobby”. He says it is “Zionist controlled Hollywood, a Zionist controlled news media that is the conduit of all this violence. It brings this imagery into every home in America.”
But Iqbal has now issued a full apology after the material was highlighted by Jewish News. “The post was meant to be ‘tongue in cheek’, poking fun at the conspiracy theory nature of it as there was a lot of it around at the time,” she said. “Looking back, and given the work we now do challenging such conspiracies, I can see how offensive it appears without the context. I sincerely apologise for my extreme naivety and the fact I had not picked up on this and removed it once we engaged in work challenging such views. Many people will be rightfully appalled.”
Describing the video as “shocking and a huge distortion of the reality of the terrorism we face,” she added: “Such irresponsible posts and theories help add to the grievance culture that exists which, in turn, fuels extremism and is precisely what I and Odara work to challenge.”
Tasmiyah Bint Naeem, described on her own Facebook page as Odara’s outreach and engagement officer, shared a post late last year that included a number of links including one entitled “Israel did 9/11 – all the proof in the world”. She also shared an image purporting to show a young boy outside a police station in search of his mother who is alleged to have been detained by Israel, adding the words: “May Allah distory (sic) Zionists”.
In response, Iqbal said the “volunteer” feels “very upset with herself for not having removed the posts earlier and regrets having posted them in the first place”. She described her as “an example of someone we have engaged with since our work to challenge extremism and hate crime of all forms. The volunteer in her youthful activism fell for such conspiracies and is an example of the impact such posts have on the vulnerable.”
Iqbal insisted the volunteer began engaging with Odara only this year, since when she has “reflected on her views… She immediately recognised the inappropriateness of the tweets and has begun removing all similar past content.”
Odara is backed by the Building a Stronger Britain Together scheme, launched by the government this year to help projects countering extremism to expand their reach. Its website expresses gratitude for “capacity building support” in social media training and campaigns. Iqbal said: “Not everyone immediately goes back to recheck previous posts that may be inappropriate and misleading. It is something we will correct and ensure forms part of our work to challenge such views.”
Organisations supported by government are expected to share values including respect for different faiths and to carry out due diligence. Jewish News understands the Home Office is looking into the matter. A spokesperson said: “We support Odara and other civil society groups that seek to counter extremism. Odara has received in-kind support and funding for an outreach project in Birmingham which aims to develop women’s resilience to radicalisation.”