The Charity Commission is assessing a “significant number of serious concerns” regarding some charities’ activities in relation to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
Commission chair Orlando Fraser today said the regulator was aware of several “allegations of antisemitic or hate speech” linked to charities in England and Wales.
Fraser said the Commission would act if it found wrongdoing by any of the charities and warned organisations not to “allow their premises or events to become forums for hate speech or unlawful extremism”.
‘Serious concerns regarding activities linked to some charities in relation to this conflict’
At the Commission’s annual public meeting in Liverpool, Fraser talked about the “recent, awful events in the Middle East” and the work charities are doing “to support those affected by the conflict, some in extraordinarily difficult circumstances”.
He said that while many charities in the UK have stepped up “their efforts to promote cohesion and combat extremism”, “reports of antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes have been increasing”.
“I have met several Jewish and Islamic charities recently to discuss their work and will continue to do so. At a time of heightened tensions, people expect charities to lead the way in bringing people together, not stoking division.
“Unfortunately, however, the Commission is aware of a significant number of serious concerns regarding activities linked to some charities in relation to this conflict. These include charities representing communities across the religious divide, although they largely concern allegations of antisemitic or hate speech.”
‘We will take action to address this’
Fraser said that where concerns have been reported to or identified by the Commission, “we’re assessing these to establish the facts and are in contact with a number of charities”.
“If we find that there has been wrongdoing, we will take action to address this.
“And let me be clear – charities mustn’t allow their premises or events to become forums for hate speech or unlawful extremism.
“The Commission will always deal robustly with those who intentionally or recklessly abuse their charities, and we will not hesitate to take action in accordance with the law to protect the reputation of the sector as a whole.”
Charities shouldn’t be ‘meek or avoid controversial subjects’
On political activity and campaigning, Fraser reiterated that charities “have a responsibility to do so with respect and tolerance, and consideration for others or kindness”.
“They need to avoid inflammatory rhetoric that may undermine public trust in the sector, and instead model a better kind of discourse,” he said at the meeting.
However, he added that “that doesn’t mean they should be meek or avoid controversial subjects”.
“But in doing so, in the cut and thrust of this political debate, charities won’t be immune from criticism if they take an alternative view in a contentious and contested area. They are after all entering charged spaces, even if doing so consistently with their charitable purposes, and they don’t have a monopoly on being ‘right’. So charities must campaign with their eyes open in these areas.
“Disappointing though it may be, as the pre-election temperature heats up further, so may the intemperate language from our politicians. This would never justify a charity responding in kind, as charities are in a different and more privileged space than politicians, and the law expects different and better standards from charities. So remember, in the words of Michelle Obama, ‘they go low, we go high’.”