A Muslim cleric who asked Conservative Party leadership hopefuls about Islamophobia during a televised debate has been accused of misogyny and anti-Semitism after his earlier tweets came to light.
Abdullah Patel, an imam at the Masjid e Umar mosque in Gloucester and deputy head at the city’s independent Al-Ashraf Primary School, was among the questioners during Wednesday’s live Tory leadership debate broadcast by the BBC.
Referring to what he called Islamophobic rhetoric faced by the Muslim community, he asked the five contenders vying to replace Theresa May − Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, and Rory Stewart − whether they agreed that “words have consequences”.
His question appeared to have been directly aimed at Boris Johnson, who earlier called veiled Muslim women “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.
The imam learned the answer first hand after he was revealed to have made a number of controversial statements online in the past.
The Spectator has unearthed tweets in which Abdullah Patel called out the “Zionist payroll”, joked about relocating Israel to the United States to solve the Palestinian issue, urged women not to stay alone with men to prevent them from being “taken advantage” of, and talked about "Zionists" who were "hiding behind the Holocaust".
His Twitter account is currently unavailable, but screenshots of his posts still made their way to social media.
Shorty after, Patel was suspended as deputy head of his school and also as imam of his mosque. Al-Ashraf primary school said it was investigating the comments and distanced itself from his views, while the mosque had “chosen to give him some time away” while it was looking into the case.
BBC has apologised for having Patel as a guest, saying: “Had we been aware of the views he expressed he would not have been selected."
I would like to apologise. We had the Imam from the BBC Tory leadership debate on our programme this morning. His social media comments have been extremely disturbing. We should have checked. We didn’t. I’m sorry.— Nicky Campbell (@NickyAACampbell) 19 июня 2019 г.
The broadcaster said it did background checks for all the guests, which included a research of their social media footprint, but Patel’s Twitter account was apparently not available at that time either.
“Following the debate, one individual reactivated a public Twitter account he had previously deactivated, whose tweets were not visible during our research period,” said a BBC spokesperson.
Patel maintained that his criticism was not directed at Jews. "The criticism was not of the Jewish community because if you go through my tweets, you'd see support for the Jewish community," he told BBC Radio.
"They're our brothers and sisters, and the Jewish community and I − especially in Gloucester − work very closely together. We actually visited a synagogue just a while ago,” he said, adding that he still stood by his criticism of “Israel’s policy”.
Many people appeared surprised that BBC producers let such a guest made his way to the event.
Problem is ... BBC were too quick to jump at the chance of trying to make a point of @BorisJohnson - No wonder he doesn’t want to do the debates, complete mess and set up!— Richard Thomas (@richthomas58) 19 июня 2019 г.
Imam Abdullah from last night’s #BBCOurNextPM has made misogynist &anti-Semitic remarks. Too often ideologically simplistic producers book bigots from our community citing “diversity”. This doesn’t help! It fuels the far-right. Don’t be so bloody lazy just because we’re brown! 😡 https://t.co/guClO8HezZ— Maajid - (Mājid) [maːʤɪd] ماجد (@MaajidNawaz) 19 июня 2019 г.
Separately, the BBC courted controversy for selecting as a guest a solicitor who had worked for Labour in the past.
"The last questioner on the debate is a solicitor who was seconded by his law firm to the Labour Party in the past, rather than being a Labour 'staffer'. He is a Labour supporter and once stood as a councillor,” the BBC confirmed.
But the broadcaster defended its choice by saying that the questioners shall not be excluded from the selection process due to their backgrounds.
"Last night's questioners held a range of political views and we did not specify these views nor their backgrounds although some chose to do so themselves,” the BBC said.
Questioners aside, some critics said the debate itself has failed to provide a constructive discussion.
Lord Heseltine, a former deputy prime minister, said: “It was a deeply depressing occasion for me because I’m disenfranchised. [The candidates] are all Brexiteers and there are large parts of my party who will never vote for a Brexiteer. It was a masterclass in avoiding the answers to questions, there was not a single new policy idea and there were a lot of assertions which made no sense.”
“It was a deeply depressing occasion… I’m disenfranchised.”— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) 18 июня 2019 г.
Former Deputy PM Lord Heseltine says tonight's debate “was a masterclass in avoiding the answers to questions… and there were a lot of assertions which make no sense”#newsnight | @maitlis | #BBCOurNextPM pic.twitter.com/XF8ZE8vvHz
The Conservative Party leaders debate was utterly woeful.— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) 18 июня 2019 г.
Five establishment MPs desperate to virtue signal on climate change, Islam, and desperate to argue in favour of growing government.
None of these men are conservatives, and none can be trusted to lead a Brexit government
The most shocking aspect of the debate was the near total absence of conservative views. Candidates went out of their way to virtue signal their political correctness and commitment to insane green policies. Neocons' leftist roots were certainly showing. https://t.co/WyqLKSvTsR— Richard Wellings (@RichardWellings) 19 июня 2019 г.