The UK’s Charity Commission has issued a press release on Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) concerning its investigation into that organisation, following allegations of anti-Semitism involving several members of IRW’s leadership. Officially registered to an address in Birmingham, but operating throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, IRW has faced a number of recent allegations of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and of members of its leadership promoting anti-Semitism, and of having “glorified terrorist attacks on Israel”. In its press release, the Charity Commission stated that individuals from IRW’s leadership had made social media posts, “which ran contrary to the charity’s code of conduct and fell far below the standard the public expect of charity trustees and staff.” However, the Charity Commission further stated:
“The Commission reviewed the charity’s response to these comments and is satisfied that it took swift action, including to condemn the comments and ensure all three individuals left their roles, which the individuals did of their own accord. None has any ongoing involvement with the charity.”
According to the press release, the Charity Commission has issued IRW’s trustees with regulatory advice, and will continue to review progress as part of its ongoing monitoring work.
This UK response diverges noticeably from the far tougher measures taken, and official statements issued, by governments in several other allied countries — specifically Germany, the United States, and the Netherlands.
On 30 December 2020, the US State Department issued details of allegations regarding anti-Semitism within Islamic Relief Worldwide. Further to this, in January it was reported that the State Department, in the final days of the Trump administration, had cut ties with IRW.
On the 19 January, meanwhile, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Sigrid Kaag, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, had decided not to allow public funds to go to Islamic Relief Worldwide. It is claimed that Kaag’s decision came after she became aware of allegations that IRW has links with the Muslim Brotherhood. De Telegraaf states she determined that the Dutch government would not provide “subsidies” for IRW.
Previously, at the beginning of December, it was reported that Germany had ceased funding of Islamic Relief Worldwide. At that time, the German federal government issued a statement in which it expressed its belief that both Islamic Relief Worldwide and Islamic Relief Germany have “significant personal connections to the Muslim Brotherhood or related organisations.” That statement clarified that the last payment from the German Foreign Office to Islamic Relief Germany was made in July 2017.
In the UK, by contrast, Islamic Relief Worldwide’s enduring status as a registered charity means that it will continue to benefit from all the tax advantages offered to charitable organisations, such as those accruing from the Gift Aid Scheme. In this way, the latest statement from the Charity Commission raises once again the long running debate over the regulation of the UK charitable sector in relation to extremism – and raises the question of whether policy in the UK has been robust enough on this issue.