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UK regulator investigating charity over event with British-Israeli soldier

Charity Commission says it has contacted trustees at the Boys Clubhouse, which supports vulnerable young Jewish men, after it advertised Levi Simon as a 'special star guest' at lunch event
Police attend protests outside the Boys Clubhouse in north London, 17 January 2024 (MEE)

The Charity Commission is investigating a London charity which provides support to vulnerable young Jewish men after it announced an event marking the return to the UK of a British man who has been fighting for the Israeli army in Gaza.

The Boys Clubhouse in Hendon, north London, was set to host soldier Levi Simon, who has attracted controversy by posting footage from Gaza on his Instagram page, at a lunchtime event on Wednesday, advertising him as a “special star guest”.

But as protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside, police officers at the scene said the event had been cancelled, with one officer saying organisers had “no idea” about Simon’s background.

Individuals with links to the youth centre told Middle East Eye that the event had been moved to another venue.

The Boys Clubhouse did not respond to MEE’s requests for comment. It describes itself as “the only Jewish charity dedicated to providing a safe and secure environment for disadvantaged and disillusioned young men”.

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Ari Leaman, the charity's chief executive, told the Jewish Chronicle newspaper that Simon was due to speak to four boys who had been excluded from school. Leaman said he had been invited to “to inspire the boys to do well in life, it had nothing to do with the army".

A Charity Commission spokesperson told MEE that the regulator was assessing concerns raised about the event and had contacted the charity's trustees.

The furore surrounding Wednesday's event also prompted London Mayor Sadiq Khan's office to distance itself from its previous funding for the organisation after it was revealed that it was listed among the charity's supporters on its website.

A spokesperson told MEE the mayor's office had awarded it a £9,300 ($11,800) grant in 2020 "to help young people keep fit and maintain their mental health during the pandemic".

The spokesperson said: "The Mayor is appalled by the catastrophic loss of life in Israel and Gaza which is why he continues to support a ceasefire.

"The Mayor does not control or input into the charity’s programme of events.”

During his time in Gaza, Simon posted pictures and videos that showed him inside the besieged enclave, including one video of him rummaging through the underwear drawers of Palestinian women forced to flee their homes.

Another video showed Simon hoisting an Israeli flag inside a Palestinian school in Gaza, where he said that “Israel is here to stay” and that the school would be teaching Hebrew soon.

Wednesday’s event prompted noisy scenes in the street outside the Boys Clubhouse building as pro-Palestine and pro-Israel activists confronted each other, watched by about a dozen police officers.

Pro-Palestine protesters used a mic and speaker system to chant “Free Palestine!” and denounce Simon’s expected presence at the event.

Those demonstrating in support of Israel held Israeli flags and chanted, “am Yisrael Chaim”. One man brought a dog wearing a coat printed with the message, “I stand with Israel” and an Israeli flag.

Amy Ward, who came from Heathrow to protest Simon speaking at the event, said she was “shocked” that he had been given a platform to speak by the charity.

“I think it's really unjust that a British soldier can go to another country and go into Gaza, film himself going through someone's drawers, their underwear drawer, and shame that [Palestinian] woman who has probably died,” Ward told MEE.

“We should all abide by the law. We have international law for a reason. And this is ridiculous.“

Joseph, who came to protest against the pro-Palestine activists, said he “thought it was quite provocative” that they had come to a predominantly Jewish area to protest for Palestine.

“We don't go into Muslim areas with an Israeli flag to antagonise the local community, but we do find this from time to time taking place here,” he said, declining to give his surname.

Commenting on the event with Simon, Joseph said it was “not provocative” for him to speak at a private event and said he had been “completely attacked on social media over the weekend”.

“This individual is 100 percent entitled to go to Israel. I honestly believe that Israel hasn't committed any war crimes and is simply defending its own people.

“And if a soldier from that army comes [here], there's no reason to protest against that soldier. I don't understand, unless you believe that country doesn't have a right or duty to defend its citizens."

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have opened a regulatory compliance case into The Boys Clubhouse to assess concerns raised about an event allegedly hosted by the charity. We have contacted the charity’s trustees to gather more information as part of our ongoing assessment.”

The regulator confirmed last week it had also opened a case into another London-based charity, UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (UK-AWIS), after MEE reported on concerns about its fundraising campaign for the Israeli military.

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