JTA — Dozens of British Jews cooked chicken soup for homeless people with volunteers from a Muslim group that is banned in Israel over alleged ties to Hamas.
At least 1,000 bowls of soup, which used a traditional Jewish recipe and halal meat, were prepared at the East London Mosque on Sunday, the East London Advertiser reported. The drive was part of Mitzvah Day, a Jewish communal initiative that encourages social action and that started in the United Kingdom 13 years ago.
According to the BBC, the London-based Muslim Aid group helped organize the event, where its volunteers wore its logo on green shirts. In 2008, Ehud Barak, who was then Israel’s defense minister, outlawed the group in Israel, citing unspecified ties to Hamas.
Their Jewish partners at the event were from the New Stoke Newington Shul, a Masorti or Conservative synagogue. Last year, the government of Bangladesh also banned some activities of the group, citing the use of their resources for promoting “radicalism.”
Similar charges leveled against the group in Britain were found by authorities to be unfounded in a 2014 inquiry led by the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission.
Campaign 4 Truth, a hawkish Jewish group from London, said in a statement it found the event “questionable” in light of the allegations by Israel against Muslim Aid, “in a climate when Israel faces an existential threat from Iran proxies Hamas and Hezbollah.”
A Muslim Aid spokesperson rejected the allegations against the group, quoting a Charity Commission assertion that it can give “public assurance that public allegations of links between [Muslim Aid] and terrorism are unsubstantiated.”
Muslim Aid “has never had any links to terrorist groups. Muslim Aid works via trusted partner organizations, which are carefully screened and do not appear on international lists of proscribed organizations,” the spokesperson said. “Muslim Aid regularly partners with numerous organizations of many faiths, persuasions and backgrounds,” the spokesperson added, and “has a 30-year history of excellent field work here in the UK and globally.”
Mitzvah Day founder and chair Laura Marks reiterated to JTA her group’s commitment to “bringing people together and showing that there is more that unites than divides us.” She declined to address the claims raised against Muslim Aid. “This particular project was all about Jews and Muslims coming together to feed the homeless. We do not raise money or fund projects,” she told JTA.
The chicken soup drive was one of hundreds of events held throughout the United Kingdom on Mitzvah Day, many of them across religious divides. The initiative has spread over the years to include Jewish communities in nearly 30 other countries, which this year saw approximately 2,000 different Mitzvah Day projects.
Muslim Aid did not respond to JTA’s request for a comment about the accusations made against it by Israel.
According to a Telegraph exposé from 2010, the group has admitted funding Al-Ihsan, a charity linked to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Islamic University of Gaza. It has declined to address claims that it has funded the Islamic Society and five other bodies linked to Hamas, according to that article.
Jehangir Malik, the CEO of Muslim Aid, told BBC of the chicken soup drive: “The interfaith is the fabric of our society it’s part of what makes our British communities so rich, so diverse.” Rabbi Roni Tabick of the New Stoke Newington Shul told BBC that the use of halal meat is “kind of a fusion in that way of both our traditions.”
Separately on Sunday, a concert by musicians from Israel with disabilities at the prestigious Eton College in Windsor helped raise approximately $500,000 for disabled children. The proceeds from the Shalva Band concert went to caring for 2,000 children in Israel at the Shalva facility. Shalva Chairman Avi Samuels called the action part of “real social change” by his organization, “teaching people to see abilities and think possibilities.”