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Last Updated: Friday, 6 August, 2004, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
UK Jewish charity political row
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Political articles: Charity criticised by watchdog
A UK Jewish youth organisation may lose its charitable status after publishing allegedly anti-Arab articles.

Betar-Tagar UK has been referred by the Charity Commission to the commission department that can revoke the charitable status of organisations.

Its initial investigation concluded Betar appeared to have a political purpose rather than a charitable aim.

Betar denies the charge, and claims that it is the victim of a politically motivated campaign.

Under British law, charities must show their activities provide a public benefit; open political campaigning is banned because its benefit is questionable.

Kilroy-Silk defended

In January this year, the Charity Commission began investigating Betar following complaints from the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu).

The Charity Commission needs to be a lot more sensitive towards Jewish charities - there is a very grey area when it comes to politics and Jewish charities
Shimon Shamila, Betar
Betar, a Zionist youth organisation associated with right-wing Israeli politics distributed an email which asked subscribers to lobby the BBC over the suspension of television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk.

Mr Kilroy-Silk had described Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors" in a British newspaper article.

Betar's email republished Mr Kilroy-Silk's Sunday Express column and described it as "excellent", claiming the presenter had been fired "because his article spoke the truth".

The watchdog also looked at articles on the charity's website.

In one, headlined "Hey Arabs - here's your letter of apology", a writer says: "I am sorry they [the Saddam Hussein regime] stopped the gang rape rooms and the filling of mass graves of dissidents.

"I am sorry we don't drop a few dozen Daisy cutters [a type of bomb] on Fallujah."

Another article denounces Islam, claiming it sought "a war between civilisations".

The Charity Commission said the email and other content on Betar's website "appeared to be in furtherance of a political purpose rather than the charitable purpose".

The charity had failed to hand in accounts for the past four years, said the watchdog, and it was now considering the organisation's future.

'Responsible charity'

Chris Doyle, director of Caabu, said his organisation had complained because it believed Betar risked perpetuating racial stereotypes.

Caabu did not want to stop charitable works, said Mr Doyle, but it believed Betar had breached its obligations.

We are constrained by law as to what we can and cannot prosecute and in this case we have had to advise the police that a criminal offence has not been committed
Crown Prosecution Service spokesman

"It appeared to us that Betar [was operating] outside of its charitable obligations and it appears to be a view that the commission upholds," he said.

"I see these kinds of articles regularly on other websites. This is not the sort of thing that you expect a responsible charity to promote."

Shimon Shamila of Betar said the organisation now wanted to voluntarily revoke its 20-year-old charitable status in order to concentrate resources on its work, rather than legal battles.

The Charity Commissions says this is not possible, because it reserves the right to decide what happens to charities.

Mr Shamila insisted Betar's activities promoted good citizenship among Jewish youth - and it had been the victim of a Muslim-led campaign against Jewish charities.

"We believe our members should be allowed to read what they want, it is after all a free country," he said.

"These articles were not the official line of the movement and people can make up their own mind."

Mr Shamila said the charity was not racist and could not be responsible for everything it forwarded.

"The Charity Commission needs to be a lot more sensitive [towards Jewish charities]," he said.

"You can make up claims about anybody. There is a very grey area when it comes to politics and Jewish charities."


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