The CAA (Campaign against Antisemitism) – an organisation that has been accused of being pro-Israeli “shock troops” “pos[ing] as a charity” and has been the subject of a petition seeking the revocation of its charitable status – has published a petition attempting to topple Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn or, failing that, to persuade Labour MPs to split from the party and form a new one.
The petition has horrified many observers, who have criticised it as inciting hate and violence and have pointed to comments left by signatories to the petition wishing harm or worse on the Labour leader:
The petition and associated comments have triggered a wave of complaints to the petition host, Change.org, but the petition currently remains online.
The petition has been accused of recklessly endangering the Labour leader, with some pointing to the fact that Finsbury Park terrorist Darren Osborne, who killed a Muslim man outside a mosque, originally hoped to kill Corbyn and Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan. The tragic death of Labour MP Jo Cox at the hands of an extreme right-winger is also evoked.
But even apart from the accusations of incitement, the petition raises serious questions about whether the CAA’s activities are compatible with its charitable status.
The Charity Commission (CC) issues guidance on what kind of political activities are and are not acceptable for a charity – and the legal ban on party political activities is considered important enough to be stated at least twice in its guidance document:
It’s difficult to imagine how trying to replace a party leader – or prompt the formation of a new party – is not ‘party political activity’.
It’s also difficult to believe that such attempts fulfil the obligation to be ‘politically neutral’ and arguable that they meet the requirement not to support a political party.
These discrepancies have prompted a number of complaints to the CC. A CC spokesperson told the SKWAWKBOX:
We can confirm that concerns have been raised with us about a petition by the charity. As with all concerns raised with us about a registered charity, we are assessing this in line with our risk and regulatory framework.
However, the CC would not provide any indication as to the likely outcome and has not yet signalled whether it will disclose the number of complaints received.
The SKWAWKBOX asked the CAA:
The CC’s guidance on charities’ political activity emphasises twice that charities must not participate in party political activity, must remain politically neutral and must not support a political party.
How do you respond to criticisms that your petition breaches these obligations in attempting to change the leader of a party and encouraging its MPs to leave and form a new one?
The CC also says that a charity must guard its reputation. Your petition has attracted numerous comments wishing harm or worse to Corbyn, which has horrified many observers. How does this fit with the CAA’s legal obligation to protect its reputation?
The CAA responded:
Gideon Falter, Chairman of Campaign Against Antisemitism said:
We condemn this violent language which is as bad as the language about Jews on Jeremy Corbyn’s own Facebook page. We have asked Change.org to give us a means of removing it. Campaign Against Antisemitism fully understands its obligations. We are obliged to act in the public benefit and without political fear or favour. That is why we have called out Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite and demanded his departure, just as we have done before with antisemitic politicians in other parties.”
The response did not address the call for MPs to form a new party and how this is compatible with the CAA’s obligation not to engage in party politics. No response to a request for specific information on this point had been received by the time of publication.
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