A Facebook post links to a story which is based on a tweet from an Imam who was exposed as an imposter by an ABC Radio investigative program.

Australian taxpayers don’t fund children’s terrorism or jihad lessons

FactCheck July 24, 2019

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from July 21, 2019 published by the Revive Australia Movement which features an image of two children on an open-air stage pointing guns at a third crouching child who’s wearing a Star-of-David-adorned helmet. The image is accompanied by the headline  “Australian taxpayers fund terror lessons where kids introduced to Jihad”.

This Facebook post from July 21, 2019, shows an image from a 2016 children festival in Gaza – not jihad lessons funded by Australian taxpayers.

The Revive Australia Movement describes itself as a” decentralised, peaceful, grassroots people’s movement who are not left or right. At our core we aim to protect individual and national sovereignty.” 

Its list of aims include “end forced preferential voting”, “citizen initiated referendums”, “return public assets” “reinstitute a People’s Bank”.

The Analysis

Revive Australia’s post contains a link to a story with the same headline from a website called The Politics Online, which publishes news-style posts, many of which are critical of Islam. 

The story is based on a July 14, 2019 Tweet by Iranian-born Australian Imam Mohamad Tawhidi, a self-described Islamic “peace advocate” and “reformist Imam”. The tweet, which is embedded in the Politics Online story, states “Hamas teaches young children to kill Jewish children, simply because they’re Israeli. Who pays for these events to brainwash children into becoming future terrorists? Is it funded by an educational committee, that is funded by the government, that is paid by our taxes in “aid”? The Twitter post had been retweeted over 4,200 times and had over 5,500 likes and over 360 comments.

The Iman of Peace’s blue tick Twitter account has almost half a million followers.

ABC Radio’s Background Briefing investigative program found in 2017 Imam Tawhidi was an imposter, a “virtually unknown Shia preacher who had arrived back in Australia after nine years spent overseas, mainly in Iran and Iraq”. The bachelor’s and master’s degree in Islamic theology he claimed to have from Iran’s Al-Mustafa University did not exist and “he had no mosque”. 

The  Politics Online story states that the Imam Tawhidi Tweet reveals “how the Palestinian leadership exploits foreign aid from Western countries to introduce children to jihad” and “warns the Australian people regarding the irresponsible use of their tax money”. 

In 2018/19, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) estimated it provided $38.3 million in official development assistance to the Palestinian Territories (PTs) – West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For 2019/20 it budgeted $42.6 million. “Australian aid to the PTs is a practical and genuine demonstration of our long-standing support for the Middle East peace process,” DFAT states. “Australia’s assistance helps strengthen the economic and social foundations of a future Palestinian state.”

According to DFAT, aid is channeled through Australia Award Scholarships at Masters’ level in priority sectors, to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to provide basic services (education and health), livelihood opportunities and protection for Palestinian refugees and the UN’s Palestinian Territories Humanitarian Fund (Administered by the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – OCHA) for humanitarian assistance in areas including health, water sanitation and hygiene, food security and protection.

Australia cut funding to the World Bank’s Multi-Donor Trust Fund for the Palestinian Recovery and Development Program in mid-2018 after then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sought assurances the aid wasn’t being channeled to Palestinians convicted of politically-motivated violence. At the time, Ms Bishop said, “I am confident that previous Australian funding to the PA through the World Bank has been used as intended.” “However, I am concerned that in providing funds for this aspect of the PA’s operations, there is an opportunity for it to use its own budget to [fund] activities that Australia would never support.”

The image of the young boys with guns comes from a children’s festival held on May 2016 in Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. A 3min8sec video of the festival was posted on Facebook showing young children dancing, waving flags and play-acting on an open-air stage in front of seated adults. Some children appear on stage dressed in military fatigues doing drills with toy guns, holding guns to the head of an “Israeli” soldier, throwing rocks and driving a miniature tank flying the flag of Israel. 

The video was posted by the Israeli not-for-profit organisation, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which states it “bridges the language gap between the West and the Middle East”.

The Verdict 

Based on this evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. There is no evidence to support the headline that “Australian taxpayers fund terror lessons where kids introduced to Jihad”. The headline is based on a Tweet from a discredited Imam and the accompanying image was repurposed from 2016 children’s festival in Gaza. 

False –  The Facebook post is false

 First published Friday July 24, 2019 17:10 AEST

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