UK

Leadership debate: BBC defends vetting process after imam's tweets emerge

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Media captionAbdullah Patel asked the Tory leadership candidates if they agreed that "words had consequences"

The BBC has defended its vetting process after it emerged a guest on its leadership debate show had shared allegedly anti-Semitic tweets.

Imam Abdullah Patel said he was sure he had not criticised Jewish people but stood by criticism of Israeli policy.

The broadcaster said: "Had we been aware of the views he expressed he would not have been selected."

Mr Patel has been suspended as deputy head of a girls' school and also by the Masjid e Umar mosque in Gloucester.

The BBC said the tweets had come to light after Mr Patel re-activated a previously inactive Twitter profile in the aftermath of Tuesday's debate, and had not been visible to its researchers before then.

Separately, the BBC faced criticism on Wednesday for choosing as a guest on the programme a solicitor who has previously worked for Labour and once stood as a councillor for the party.

It defended the decision, saying: "A background in politics doesn't disqualify anyone from taking part in a debate show."

A screenshot of Mr Patel's Twitter feed from 2014 posted on the Guido Fawkes website showed he shared a graphic of Israel's outline superimposed on a map of the US under the headline "Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict - relocate Israel into United States".

Labour MP Naz Shah was temporarily suspended from her party three years ago after it emerged she had shared the same image on Facebook.

Another screenshot showed a tweet from Mr Patel, apparently giving advice to women on how to avoid being assaulted by men, saying: "Generally men are the predators, but women need to realise this and be smarter. It takes two 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!"

BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast presenter Nicky Campbell apologised for having Mr Patel as a guest on his show on Wednesday morning, after the imam had reactivated his controversial social media account, saying it contained "extremely disturbing" comments that should have been checked.

Al-Ashraf primary school in Gloucester released a statement saying Mr Patel had been suspended "from all school duties" while it investigated comments attributed to him in the media.

It added: "The 'school' and 'trust' do not share the views attributed to him."

A statement from the Masjid e Umar mosque said: "We are fully aware of the allegations made against our Imam Maulana Abdullah Patel regarding the contents of historic tweets. We have decided to act immediately and have chosen to give him some time away to allow us the opportunity to conduct a detailed investigation into this matter."

Mr Patel, who has now deactivated the Twitter account again, told the BBC Asian Network the school was "within its right" to conduct an investigation.

"I don't wish to comment on their decision," he added.

Speaking to BBC Radio Gloucestershire earlier, Mr Patel said he had a very good relationship with the Jewish community.

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

"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."

However, he said he stood by any criticism of "Israel's policy".

Islamophobia question

Mr Patel was one of several members of the public who were invited to ask the five Conservative leadership candidates questions during the televised debate.

How were the guests selected?

  • The BBC asked people to submit questions via email or an online form
  • The call-out was made via social media and on air on the BBC - including the BBC News channel, local radio and Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme
  • The questions were picked by the production team based on subject areas, with those they judged to be the strongest questions making the final selection
  • They also aimed for a geographical spread of questions and a variety of ages and backgrounds to ensure voices were heard "from people across the UK and outside the Westminster bubble"

He asked MPs about the Islamophobic rhetoric faced by members of the Muslim community and whether they agreed that "words had consequences".

BBC presenter Emily Maitlis took responses from the Conservative leader candidates, with Sajid Javid taking the opportunity to ask all the candidates to agree to commit to an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which they appeared to do.

Responding to the controversy over Mr Patel's participation in the debate, Mr Javid tweeted that the imam should "practise what he preaches".

Former Conservative cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who earlier welcomed the idea of inquiry, warned the controversy over Mr Patel's social media posts should not be allowed to distract from their "important commitment".

"Are we really going to focus on the vile views of this insignificant questioner to undermine the significant answers on a serious issue from five powerful men, one of whom will become PM?" she asked on Twitter.

In response to criticism about choosing a solicitor who had worked for the Labour Party as a guest on the debate programme, the BBC said: "Last night's questioners held a range of political views and we did not specify these views nor their backgrounds although some chose to do so themselves.

"The last questioner on the debate is a solicitor who was seconded by his law firm to the Labour Party in the past, rather than being a Labour 'staffer'. He is a Labour supporter and once stood as a councillor."

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