- This story was corrected on 3 September. See final paragraph.
The Charities Aid Foundation has withdrawn facilities including CAF bank accounts and online donation services from several Muslim charities over the past few weeks, Third Sector has learned.
Sources said that one of the charities, Islamic Relief, is no longer using the CAF online giving service because of its inclusion in June in an Israeli government list of organisations linked to the Palestinian Islamic organisation Hamas, which governs Gaza. It is not clear whether CAF withdrew the service from Islamic Relief or the charity volunteered to stop using it.
Islamic Relief, an international aid and development charity that aims to alleviate suffering, hunger, illiteracy and diseases worldwide, released a statement saying it was a purely humanitarian organisation and categorically denied the allegations by the Israeli government.
"No organisation is investigating Islamic Relief Worldwide as a result of these allegations, and no financial institution has closed any of our accounts," the statement said. "As a responsible organisation, we are looking into this matter thoroughly to ensure that our processes for aid delivery have been followed." A spokesman declined to comment further.
The Muslim Charities Forum said it was aware of two more charities that had had facilities, including CAF bank accounts, withdrawn by CAF, but said they did not wish to be identified. It said the charities had believed they were individual cases but, after speaking with the MCF, realised there were others in the same situation.
CAF is understood to have told Islamic Relief that it was concerned about the precedent of the NatWest bank, which was sued in the US in 2007 by more than 200 relatives of Israeli victims of suicide attacks by Hamas for providing banking facilities to the Palestinian relief and development charity Interpal, which was alleged to be associated with Hamas. The case was dismissed by a US district judge in a summary judgment in 2013, but the plaintiffs are appealing against this decision.
The BBC’s Panorama programme alleged in 2006 that Interpal’s local partners promoted Hamas ideology, but the charity was cleared by the Charity Commission of links to terrorism after an inquiry, which ended in 2009.
A spokesman for CAF declined to talk about individual clients. It said in a statement that it currently supported about 400 Islamic charities and had added nearly 50 to its list of validated charities over the past year. "We are absolutely neutral and would never discriminate against any particular cause in any way," he said.
"It would be wrong for us to discuss our processes, but, like any financial intermediary, we have robust systems in place to ensure we comply with our UK and international obligations to protect against fraud, money laundering, bribery and corruption and terrorism-financing while working with charitable organisations to support their work in conflict zones and elsewhere."
On 19 June, the Israeli defence minister declared Islamic Relief an "unauthorised association" and added it to a list of organisations on the Israeli Ministry of Defence website that he said were linked to Hamas. The charity has since been prevented from operating in Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.
Commenting on the CAF decision, Tom Keatinge, associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, who is conducting research on the impact of counter-terrorism legislation on NGOs' access to finance, told Third Sector: "The CAF rationale is frankly baffling and represents an appalling precedent. When charities start turning against each other, we are in a very bad place."
A spokesman for the MCF said: "It goes without saying that instances such as these are a worry. As has been clearly documented over recent weeks, the termination of banking services can have dramatic impacts on the thousands of beneficiaries charities serve around the world. We will be watching this situation closely to see how it develops."
- The story originally said that CAF had closed a CAF bank account held by Islamic Relief. The charity declined to say before publication whether it had such an account, but has since said that it did not.