BBC debate imam in Israel controversy suspended from mosque and school duties

An imam who questioned the Tory leadership candidates during a televised debate has been suspended from his mosque and duties at the school where he works 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.

The executive members of the Masjid e Umar mosque in Gloucester said: "We have decided to act immediately and have chosen to give him some time away to allow us the opportunity to conduct a detailed investigation into this matter.

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"This is the official stance of the mosque's executive committee and we hope you respect our right to privacy as we conduct this deeply sensitive investigation."

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

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

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."

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said Mr Patel should "practise what he preaches" and that words "do indeed have consequences".

"All of us in public life have a duty to be vigilant for antisemitism & anti-Muslim prejudice. I never imagined we would see it rising in 21st century UK. Unlike the Labour leadership, which is itself part of the problem, my party takes that duty seriously," he tweeted.

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.

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