BBC debate imam in Israel controversy suspended from duties as deputy head

An imam who questioned the Tory leadership candidates during a televised debate has been suspended from all duties at the primary school where he is deputy head amid controversy about his past comments on Israel.

Abdullah Patel, who asked the contenders about Islamophobia during a BBC debate on Tuesday evening, has been criticised for past tweets in which he said “every political figure on the Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn”.

He also shared an image endorsing the relocation of Israel to the US as a way of solving the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The BBC said Mr Patel would not have been selected for the programme if it had been aware of his previous comments, and said his Twitter account had been deactivated ahead of his appearance – meaning the old tweets could not be read.

Al-Ashraf Primary School in Gloucester said in a statement posted on its website that it had suspended Mr Patel from all school duties.

Yakub Patel, chairman of Al-Madani Educational Trust, said: “Following some of the comments attributed to Mr Patel in the media this morning, the Trust has decided to suspend him from all school duties with immediate effect until a full investigation is carried out.

“The ‘school’ and ‘Trust’ do not share the views attributed to him.”

Rob Burley, who edited the programme, tweeted: “It was AFTER the show that Mr Patel reactivated his account revealing his tweets.

“We wouldn’t have put him on the programme if these were public before broadcast, but they were not. We also carried out a number of other routine checks which didn’t uncover anything untoward.”

Mr Patel has taken down his Twitter account again after the past tweets came to light.

The BBC has also faced criticism after it emerged that another member of the public – Aman Thakar – who questioned the Tory leadership candidates was the Labour Party candidate in Borough and Bankside in the Southwark local election last year.

Earlier, BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Nicky Campbell, who had Mr Patel on his breakfast show, apologised and said the imam had made “extremely disturbing” remarks on Twitter and that he was “sorry” the broadcaster had not checked beforehand.

Campbell tweeted: “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.”

In the debate, Mr Patel asked the five candidates whether they believed words had consequences, and said he had seen first hand the impact of Islamophobic rhetoric on his community.

Boris Johnson said he was “sorry for the offence” his comments about veiled Muslim women looking like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” had caused, while Michael Gove condemned Islamophobia as “repugnant” and attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for comments he claimed were “disgusting” and anti-Semitic.

The BBC debate
The BBC debate on Tuesday evening (Jeff Overs/BBC)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid urged all the candidates to commit to an external investigation into the issue within the Tory Party, and his rivals nodded in agreement.

Writing on Twitter after the debate, Mr Patel said he had asked the question because he wanted the candidates to promise that “things would change”, adding: “The hate is real.”

“As an Imam, I’m exposed to many incidents which happen in my community, and of course, as a visible Muslim, I also witness it first hand. I have received numerous incident reports of blatant racism against members of my community, from spitting and swearing at Muslim women … to asking students coming to my mosque if they had bombs in their bags,” he wrote.

He added: “What I got as a response was nothing short of disappointing and deluded: @BorisJohnson forgot my name, spoke about his G(reat) grandfather and about Iran. Gove used the opportunity to have a dig at @jeremycorbyn.

2) It was AFTER the show that Mr Patel reactivated his account revealing his tweets. We wouldn't have put him on the programme if these were public before broadcast but they were not. We also carried out a number of other routine checks which didn't uncover anything untoward.

— Rob Burley (@RobBurl) June 19, 2019

“@Jeremy-Hunt used the chance to speak about how he can’t be racist because he has an immigrant wife, and @RoryStewartUK forgot that this is also OUR country. The only positive from the debate was @sajidjavid making them all commit to an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the @Conservatives.”

In his response to the question, Mr Johnson said he believed his Muslim great-grandfather would have been “very proud” to have seen him become foreign secretary.

He added that, when his great-grandfather came to the UK in 1912, “he did so because he knew it was a beacon of generosity and openness and a willingness to welcome people from around the world”, adding: “If I am prime minister, I will ensure that that is the way our country acts and behaves.”

At one point he appeared to forget Mr Patel’s name, referring to him as “my friend over there”, before presenter Emily Maitlis interjected: “Abdullah”.

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