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Comic Relief chair resigns over charity’s Gaza stance

27 Nov 2023 News

The chair of Comic Relief has resigned after the charity called for ceasefire in Gaza, without board consultation.

Last week, Eric Salama posted on X that he was stepping down early as chair of the charity, saying that “there are times in life when principles really matter more than any job”. 

In a statement, Comic Relief revealed that Salama had “brought forward the date of his departure from the previously announced retirement date of March 2024”. 

“Eric’s decision relates to a stance being taken on a public issue without any prior consultation with the board or Eric as chair,” the statement reads.

Civil Society understands that he disagreed with Comic Relief’s decision to sign a petition on change.org, without board consultation, which calls for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and Israel, though the charity did not comment on this. 

‘There are times in life when principles really matter more than any job’

Salama joined Comic Relief as chair on 1 July 2020 and is the former chief executive officer of Kantar, a market research company. 

He posted on X that he has “been proud to chair Comic Relief and feel that we’ve achieved a lot through a tough period”.

“It’s been a particular joy working with some incredibly talented and wonderful creative people who give their time and talent for free and with partners such as BBC, TJMaxx, Amazon, British Airways and Sainsbury’s who have been the most amazing partners,” he said. 

“I admired Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry [Comic Relief’s co-founders] from afar before I joined and have even more respect and admiration and love for two wonderful human beings now that I’ve got to know them.”

He added: “All of which made [it] particularly sad for me, stepping down early from my role and letting some people down in the process.

“But there are times in life when principles really matter more than any job. And [it] was one of those times when management took an approach to an issue which I thought was profoundly wrong and which I could not live with”. 

‘We’re grateful for Eric’s time and commitment given to Comic Relief’

On Salama’s decision to leave early, a spokesperson for Comic Relief said: “Although we don’t comment on internal matters relating to our staff or members of the board, we have announced that Eric has brought forward the date he is leaving. 

“We’re grateful for Eric’s time and commitment that he has given so generously to Comic Relief over the past three years, and for him continuing to support Comic Relief by helping to recruit his successor and on various other projects.”

On the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel, they added: “Comic Relief was formed in response to a humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, and we have joined over 700 charities, including many of the most prominent in the UK, in signing a petition about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel that is focused on the need to protect civilians and children on all sides of the conflict.”

New interim chair

Last week, Comic Relief announced that Tom Shropshire, who has been a trustee of the charity since 2018, had become its new chair. 

Shropshire is currently general counsel and company secretary of the beverage company Diageo and a non-executive director at the court of the Bank of England. Previously, he was a partner at an international law firm.

He will be the chair of Comic Relief until a permanent chair is appointed in due course, the charity said.

On his appointment, Shropshire said: “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to lead the board and work even more closely with the team at Comic Relief to deliver the charity’s ambitions, and most importantly to have impact and make a real difference on the ground.

“On behalf of the board and team at Comic Relief, I would like to thank Eric for all he has done for the charity, including steering Comic Relief through the Covid-19 pandemic and helping to shape our current strategy. We wish Eric well in the future and look forward to having his continued support in the important work being done by Comic Relief and its partners.”

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