‘Traumatic’: Muslim organisations condemn Hackney Council’s response to Middle East conflict

Protesters hold up a sign on the Town Hall steps in February. Photograph: Noora Mykkanen

Members of Hackney’s Muslim community have slammed the council’s response to the Israel-Hamas conflict in a letter to the mayor and deputy mayor.

The letter, whose signatories include several local mosques, is written with “great concern” about “the council’s failure to agree to hold a vote… for an immediate ceasefire in the war in Gaza”.

It states: “To add to our pain and horror, we understand the council’s staff pension funds have investments in a number of companies manufacturing bombs, other weapons and equipment which are used by Israel’s occupying army”.

The final paragraph calls for Hackney Council to “immediately cease its twinning with Haifa and remove the [Israeli] flag from the Speaker’s office”.

It is understood that four flags representing the countries in which Hackney has a twin city are on display in the office inside the Town Hall.

Abdi Hassan, founder of Coffee Afrik, a community organisation serving marginalised people, also signed the letter.

He told the Citizen: “This is a reaction to a culmination of many years of the council’s approach to the Muslim community.

“We’re concerned about the council’s systematic approach to Muslim communities, with which they really struggle to engage”.

The council said in a statement: “We have received the letter… and acknowledge the concerns set out in it.

“We also recognise the deep distress, fear and anger in our communities about the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza.

“As the letter indicates, we met Muslim community organisations, where we discussed engagement with our Muslim communities and our increasing and ongoing work together.”

“Following this meeting, council leaders visited Muslim places of worship and community organisations to build understanding of the specific needs of our Muslim residents and we will continue to reach out to build and expand these relationships,” the statement continued.

However, Abdi criticised this meeting as “performative” and “disingenuous”.

“There’s been a lack of follow-up from the council since then. They say they want to build bridges, but there’s no actioning of this.”

He pointed to the council’s organisation of its Eid celebrations.

“It was the perfect opportunity to work together, but there was nothing. As a result, a lot of people boycotted it.”

The Citizen asked Hackney Council who organised the council’s ‘market celebration’ on 13 April, and how the Muslim community was involved in setting up a stall on Ridley Road, but it declined to comment.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, ahead of the celebration, local resident Sulekha Hassan wrote: “Please boycott this attempt at Eid-washing genocide and apartheid by Hackney Council until they hear us.”

She later told the Citizen: “We’re trying our best to have a dialogue [with the council], but every time we’re subjected to this infantilisation of conversation, and a complete lack of engagement.

“They didn’t even let their own councillors vote to hear a motion on calling for a ceasefire.”

This is a reference to Hackney Labour’s suspension of four councillors in February.

As well as criticising the “failure to agree to hold a vote” on calling for a ceasefire, the letter from Muslim organisations notes the council’s quick decision to divest from stocks in Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

It asks: “What number of Palestinian deaths will it take for the council to make the same divest commitment [with Israel] as it did for Russia?”

The Citizen asked Hackney Council if it will be divesting what pensions committee chair Cllr Kam Adams described as “£1.9m in passive investments” in “companies conducting business activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. It declined to respond.

Instead, a spokesperson said: “We take the concerns set out in the letter extremely seriously and we will be responding in full.

“We are committed to continuing to represent the local needs of all our residents and our Muslim communities play a key role in this work.

“As part of the work of our new equality plan, the council will be looking at the specific intersectional experience of Muslim residents in Hackney and how the council can better meet their needs.

“This will include engagement with a broad range of community organisations and resident groups, including the signatories to this letter.”

“I think this is all political,” said Abdi. “The Muslim community doesn’t hold enough leverage to the council, because they don’t see us as politically strong when it comes to voting, so there’s no benefit in engaging.”

This accusation was put to Hackney Council, but it declined to respond.

Abdi continued: “Of course, you’re not going to agree on every piece of policy, but for the most part, the Muslim community has been historically twinned with the values of Labour.”

He added: “Now we’re being discarded, and it’s traumatic.

“The council doesn’t treat [the Muslim community] with respect. What we’re asking is to be seen, to be treated as human beings and to be able to say, ‘I matter’.”

Sulekha concurred: “People feel disenfranchised – the council talks about us as if we’re nuisances, not members of the community.”