The BBC was engulfed in a row today after it emerged that an imam chosen to quiz Tory leadership contenders over their past remarks had himself tweeted controversial comments about Israel and women.
Abdullah Patel appeared on the BBC’s flagship TV debate last night and 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.
The spotlight was immediately turned on Boris Johnson, who said he was sorry for the offence his comments about veiled Muslim women looking like letter letterboxes and bank robbers had caused.
Michael Gove condemned Islamophobia as “repugnant” and attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for comments he claimed were “disgusting” and anti-Semitic.
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” and largely branded the response from them as “nothing short of disappointing and deluded”.
His past controversial comments on Twitter include: “Every Political figure on the Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn. They don’t like him. He seems best suited to tackle them!” He also shared an image suggesting the relocation of Israel to the US as a way of solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The Twitter account of Mr Patel, deputy headteacher at the Al-Ashraf Primary School in Gloucester, has since been taken down. Today the school suspended him.
The Evening Standard understands that he does not dispute that he posted the tweets a number of years ago. The imam is also believed to work closely with Jewish organisations, including visiting synagogues, and to have posted other messages supporting Jewish communities.
He is said to accept that his comments are controversial but believes there is a distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism which he has reportedly condemned on Twitter.
He has also allegedly tweeted at least one message about women likely to cause controversy, which read: “Generally, men are the predators, but women need to realise this and be smarter. It takes 2 to tango, and if you put yourself in that position, don’t expect every man to pass up the opportunity to take advantage of you. Don’t be alone with a man!”
Arch-Brexiteer Mark Francois criticised the BBC over the imam’s appearance on Our Next Prime Minister, which was watched by an average of 5.3 million viewers.
He said: “You would have thought the BBC could employ better researchers than this in an era when they are proposing to charge 75-year-old pensioners for the licence fee.
The BBC said it knew about all the questioners’ political links and any affiliation did not mean they could not go on the programme.
But Brexit minister James Cleverly, who is backing Mr Johnson, said: “I love and value the BBC, but stuff like this makes it really hard to defend you from critics.”