Nisa-Nashim is an interfaith organisation claiming to bring 'Jewish and Muslim women together to inspire and lead social change'. In reality it is a Zionist backed group dedicated to normalising Zionism in the UK Muslim community.
Nisa-Nashim presents itself as a charity that aims to foster dialogue and understanding between Muslim and Jewish women, bringing them ‘closer together’ to ‘build personal friendships, grow as leaders and benefit wider society’. Its name means ‘women’ in both Arabic and Hebrew. The Nisa-Nashim website states that it raises ‘awareness of Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and women’s role in society’.
The organisation operates as a network of local groups across 28 chapters. A glimpse of the role of the groups can be gleaned from the statement that Nisa-Nashim aims to ‘change the tone of the conversation, so that instead of swiftly polarising against each other, people instead learn to celebrate difference and increase trust and cooperation’. This sounds warm and fuzzy if we imagine that Nisa-Nashim really is an ‘interfaith’ project, devoted to challenging prejudices against Jews and Muslims, but, in reality, the organisation exists to blunt criticism of Israel and the Zionist movement in the Muslim community. It does this by leveraging personal contacts and friendships, particularly in the wake of each new human-rights outrage and incidence of ethnic cleansing by the state of Israel in historic Palestine.
The intention of normalising Zionism in Muslim communities is evident in the ideological commitments and institutional links of those involved, from the sources of funding that the group draws upon and from the organisational structure of the group.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews claims that it 'incubated' . Nisa-Nashim claims that it was co-founded by two people one Muslim the other Jewish. In reality there were three co-founders as documents at companies House show.
Those involved with Nisa-Nashim fall into two categories. First of all, there are Zionists – that is, individuals who are or have been embedded in leadership or functionary positions in the Zionist movement or the government of Israel. Secondly, there are individuals of Muslim origin who are fully signed up to the Islamophobic counter-terrorism policies of the British state. Some of them, in addition, have clear, if sometimes covert, connections to a British intelligence agency, as we show below.
Connections to Zionism
- Laura Marks, Co-Founder, Trustee and Director (27 September 2016–9 September 2019), Chief Executive Officer. Marks was Senior Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (2012–15), which, according to its own account, has a ‘Close working relationship with the Embassy of Israel in the UK, including with the Ambassador, diplomats, and professional staff, and strengthened links to the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces]’. Marks is also a trustee of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), chair of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and founder of Mitzvah Day – another interfaith project seeking to normalise Zionism in the Muslim community. Marks was a member of the Zionist youth group Habonim Dror, as was her husband, the TV producer Dan Patterson. In February 2020, Marks attended the British Islam Conference. This event was run by New Horizons in British Islam – an organisation with a covert connection to the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), the propaganda unit of the Home Office’s Homeland Security Group (HSG, as the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) became known in April 2021).
- Miriam Nina Gitlin, Trustee and Director (appointed 25 May 2018). Gitlin moved to Israel in c.2000, where she was ‘admitted to the Israeli bar’. During her five years in Israel, she worked as a government lawyer in the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Environment.
- Denise Joseph, Trustee and Director (since Sept 2016). Joseph describes herself as ‘an ardent Zionist’. She is also a trustee at the pro-Israel OneVoice Europe, which is engaged in pushing pro-Israel propaganda in British schools.
- Judith Flacks-Leigh, Trustee and Director (January 2017–December 2020). Flacks-Leigh has worked with a dizzying collection of Zionist organisations, including being Head of Communications and Campaigns at the JLC (April 2016–July 2019) and a trustee of the Union of Jewish Students (since August 2020). Between December 2014 and January 2016, Flacks-Leigh served as Communications Officer at the UK’s main pro-Israel lobby group, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). Immediately afterwards, she was employed as parliamentary assistant to John Spellar MP, a vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel with strong connections to BICOM. Flacks-Leigh sat on the defence division of the BoD (2018–2021), was a on the National Executive Committee of the Jewish Labour Movement (July 2017–Oct 2018) and a volunteer with the pro-Israel American Jewish Committee (2014).
- Elizabeth Arif-Fear, co-chair of one of the local groups of Nisa-Nashim. Arif-Fear reportedly posted ‘an image of the Israeli flag on her Twitter feed with a hashtag which expresses support for Israel, #AmYisraelChai’, and has said she struggles ‘to understand Jews who are anti-Zionist’. She has also been involved with a number of notoriously pro-Israel groups such as being a trustee of Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, set up by Ghanem Nuseibeh, a Palestinian supporter of Zionism and pro-UAE lobbyist in the UK.
Connections to counter extremism
- Julie Siddiqi, Co-Founder, Trustee and Director (27 Sept 2016–3 Nov 2020). Siddiqi is also an advisor to Marks’ Mitzvah Day, as well as being founder and director (since 2015) of Sadaqa Day – a project that emulated in the Muslim community the formula of Zionist advocacy piloted by Mitzvah Day. She was also coordinator of a similar project, The Big Iftar, during Ramadan 2014. Siddiqi has spoken at receptions hosted by the British military. In 2013, she stated that ‘British Muslims should be wearing poppies, not burning them’ and that the centenary of the 1914–18 war provided an opportunity to tell young Muslims that ‘we are all in this together’. In 2014, Siddiqi visited the Ministry of Defence to be briefed about British armed operations in Iraq, claiming the event was ‘very useful’ and ‘it’s crucial for us to feel that we can give our concerns and feedback and to feel that they have been taken on board and taken seriously’. She added: ‘I can’t see any other country in the world where you could have something like this, so it is something we should be proud of’. Previously, Siddiqi was a member of the UK government’s National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group – an attempt to undermine Muslim opposition to foreign wars. She also sits on the UK government’s national Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group as an ‘independent’ member along with a host of other government-funded apologists for the PREVENT programme. In December 2019, Siddiqi and Nisa-Nashim ran a session with Judy Silkoff, Director of Operations at the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), at the Limmud conference, titled ‘Hands off our headscarves’. Limmud is funded by a wide range of key Zionist groups, foundations and individuals, including the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), the largest pro-Israel funding group in the UK, and its long-time head, Trevor Chinn. Siddiqi’s husband, Naved, is a trustee at New Horizons in British Islam, which hosted the Britain Islam conference attended by Marks. Since resigning as a trustee in November 2020, Siddiqi has continued to ‘remain involved’ with the charity.
- Akeela Ahmed, Trustee and Director (25 May 2018–4 Jan 2021). In the accounts for 2020, Ahmed was said to ‘remain involved’ with Nisa-Nashim despite her resignation as a Trustee. Her main claims to public notice are being involved in the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group with a whole hoist of other apologists for British counter-terrorism policy; and occupying a role in the Muslim Youth Helpline, which ended in acrimony in 2009 when she and her husband (the journalist Nafeez Ahmed) reportedly contacted the police to report charity colleagues to PREVENT.
Connections to British intelligence
Nisa-Nashim has multiple connections to British intelligence.
- One director is a prevent official (Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal). Since January 2013, Haroon-Iqbal has worked for the Department for Education as West Midlands Regional PREVENT Lead (HE & FE), overseen by the Homeland Security Group, which is responsible for ‘developing, coordinating and implementing CONTEST’, the government’s counter-terrorism policy. The HSG also ‘leads on the management and delivery of the Prevent programme, in partnership with Counter-Terrorism Police, and local, national and civil society delivery partners’. It is not widely known that the HSG is one of the seven agencies and departments that form the UK intelligence community, alongside others such as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. In other words, PREVENT co-ordinators like Haroon-Iqbal, while not directly employed by an intelligence agency, are overseen and co-ordinated by such an agency, making them ‘assets’ or ‘agents’ of British intelligence. The latter term is used by MI5 to describe individuals who are ‘not formally employed by MI5’ but acting on behalf of the state, as compared to its staff, who are referred to as ‘officers’.
- Both Marks and Siddiqi have attended events run by New Horizons in British Islam a project run by - among others - Siddiqi's husband Naved. This is a project that has received covert support from the Home Office propaganda unit RICU which is part of the Homeland Security Group - in other words, part of the British intelligence apparatus.
- Saleha Islam who has run events for Nisa-Nashim is listed as staff on the website of Faith Associates a group which also has a covert connection to RICU
Nisa-Nashim has had some success in encouraging participation in its events and in its main aim of presenting itself as an innocent interfaith endeavour. However, it has faced significant criticism in the Muslim community, as is admitted in their annual report in both 2019 and 2020, the latter of which states: ‘The climate of suspicion that our work is motivated by a political agenda continued in 2020’. As a result, the organisation bemoans the difficulty of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic with reduced access to ‘opinion leaders’ and ‘potential donors’. Total income declined from £82,359 in 2018 to £54,685 in 2019 and down to only £427 in 2020. This would appear to suggest that the project may be heading for difficult times or possible extinction.
On its website, Nisa-Nashim says it is ‘funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government [DCLG] and is supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Nisa-Nashim is also grateful for the support of David Dangoor’. A 2015 report on the organisation’s launch elaborated that £30,000 was given by DCLG ‘with additional financial backing from the Board of Deputies’. In 2016/17 Nisa Nashim worked with M and C Saatchi, who gave in-kind support through the Building a Stronger Britain Together Programme, funded by the Home Office for a ‘strategic review of our marketing and communications’. The DCLG’s successor body, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, gave a further £30,000 in both 2017/8 and 2018/9.
David Dangoor is a philanthropist whose family Exilarch’s Foundation funds a variety of conservative and Zionist causes including the Islamophobic Henry Jackson Society and three leading pro-Israel groups – the BoD, the JLC and the Community Security Trust. The foundation has also given money to the Jerusalem Foundation – an organisation involved in promoting settlement activity in occupied East Jerusalem in contravention of international law. In early 2021, it was announced that Dangoor was gifting £2 million to the Royal United Services Institute, a Whitehall-based think tank at the centre of the military-industrial complex in the UK.
Dangoor is a vice president of the JLC (to which his foundation gave £450,000 in 2016 and £100,000 in 2019). He is also a trustee of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre UK, the British wing of the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Zionist organisation that named Jeremy Corbyn as the anti-Semite of the year in 2019. In its 2019 annual report, Nisa-Nashim thanked Dangoor ‘especially’ for support of its ‘core activities’.
Among other financial supporters have been the pro-Israel World Jewish Congress and the Fayre Share Foundation – a philanthropic group run by the Zionist activist Maurice Ostro, which ‘works closely’ with the pro-Israel Council of Christians and Jews and the government funded Faiths Forum for London.
In sum, the main funding sources for Nisa-Nashim have been the government counter-extremism budget and Zionist organisations.
- Akeela Ahmed Role Active Director Date of birth, August 1978 Appointed on 25 May 2018. Occupation Self Employed
- Miriam Nina Gitlin Role Active Director, Date of birth September 1963. Appointed on 25 May 2018. Occupation Lawyer
- Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal Role Active Director. Date of birth July 1964 Appointed on 25 May 2018. Occupation Civil Servant
- Denise Nicole Joseph Role Active Director Date of birth November 1962 Appointed on 27 September 2016. Occupation Chartered Accountant
- Ahmereen Reza Role Active Director Date of birth November 1961 Appointed on 25 May 2018. Occupation Housing And International Development Consultant. Reza was Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hodge Hill Birmingham at the 2017 general election and a Conservative List candidate for the Greater London Assembly in 2019. Since March 2014, she has been Director of Conservative Friends of Pakistan.
- Julie Margaret Siddiqi Role Active Director Date of birth October 1971 Appointed on 27 September 2016 Occupation Consultant
- Judith Flacks Role Resigned Director Date of birth July 1989 Appointed on 25 May 2018 Resigned on 31 December 2019 Occupation Head Of Campaigns
- Laura Marks Role Resigned Director Date of birth April 1960 Appointed on 27 September 2016 Resigned on 9 September 2019 Occupation Consultant
- Anna Hussain – Group Liaison Manager. Hussain was 'raised as an Orthodox Jew and converted to Islam about 14 years ago.' '
- Lindy Diamond – Operations Manager. She 'immigrated to the UK in 2021 ... – from Cape Town, South Africa, where she had been editor of the Cape Jewish Chronicle. Before that she worked for the Jewish Board of Deputies and as a fundraising administrator for the local Jewish community school'.
- Nisa-Nashim About Nisa-Nashim Archived on 11 October 2021.
- Board of Deputies Interfaith. Archived on 28 March 2022.
- Pro-Israel, pro-LGBT activist Elizabeth Arif-Fear is employed by Islamic Relief, 5Pillars, 18th August 2020
- Greenbelt Festival Julie Siddiqi
- Roshan Salih Some Muslim community leaders urge Muslims to wear the poppy 5Pillars, 6th November 2013
- UK defense ministry briefs Muslim community leaders on Iraq mission, Al-Arabiya. 10 October ,2014.
- Limmud Partners. retrieved from the Internet Archive of 6 august 2020.
- Nisa-Nashim Annual Report and Unaudited Financial Statements for the Year ended 31 December 2020, Companies House.
- Assed Baig Muslim Youth Helpline Closes and CEO Stands Down Amid Police Leak Row Posted on June 12, 2012. Accessed 13 April 2020.
- Exilarch's Foundation NOTES TO THE ACCOUNTS FOR THE YEAR ENDED 31 DECEMBER 2019. Charity Commission.
- Conservative Friends of Pakistan < Ahmereen Reza
- Companies House Ahmereen Reza
- Companies House Nisa-Nashim: Officers. Accessed 21 April 2020.