Imam who asked Tory candidates about 'consequences of words' is suspended over 'antisemitic' tweets

Benjamin Kentish

An imam who questioned the Tory leadership candidates during a live televised debate has been suspended from his job as a primary school teacher after a row over antisemitic tweets.

Abdullah Patel was removed from his duties as deputy head of Al-Ashraf Primary School in Gloucester after it emerged that he had previously said critics of Jeremy Corbyn were "on the Zionist's payroll".

He also suggested that the state of Israel should be moved to the USA, called Gaza "the modern day Auschwitz" and claimed that some women who are assaulted by men are partially to blame.

During a BBC debate on Tuesday night, Mr Patel asked the Conservative leadership contenders if they believed that "words have consequences" - a question widely seen as a reference to Boris Johnson's past comments about Muslim women who wear the veil looking like "letterboxes".

The imam's own words prompted an angry backlash when his social media posts, which date back to 2014, were uncovered within minutes of the debate finishing.

As the row deepened, the Al-Madani Educational Trust, which runs the school, said Mr Patel had been suspended "with immediate effect".

In a statement posted on the school's website, Yakub Patel, chair of the 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."

The BBC defended its vetting processes and claimed the imam had deactivated his Twitter account before taking part in the programme.

It said: "We carried out background research into the online and social media profiles of all our questioners for last night's debate. Following the debate, one individual reactivated a public Twitter account he had previously deactivated, whose tweets were not visible during our research period.

"Had we been aware of the views he expressed there, he would not have been selected."

Speaking to BBC Radio Gloucestershire, Mr Patel insisted he had been criticising "Israel's policy" rather than the Jewish community.

He said: "The criticism was not of the Jewish community because if you go through my tweets, you'd see support for the Jewish community.

"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."