Nazim Ali hearing: Day 2

Today was Day Two of the Nazim Ali hearing at the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). The hearing tribunal must decide whether Ali’s fitness to practise is impaired by his antisemitic tirade when leading the Al Quds march on 18 June 2017.

I will start simply by reporting what happened, without comment. My report is necessarily rough and incomplete because it is from my notes and because the sound quality in the room is poor. You may draw your own conclusions about what was said. Later I will offer my conclusions.

One of the young men present happened to make some remark against the Zionists. Dr. King snapped at him and said, “Don’t talk like that! When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

What happened?

The day started with a discussion involving the GPhC’s legal adviser (Ms Sadia Zouq), the Tribunal Chair (Alastair Cannon) and the two barristers (Andrew Colman QC for the GPhC and David Gottlieb for Nazim Ali) about precisely how the Tribunal should decide whether what Nazim Ali said over the loudhailer was antisemitic. Mr Colman (I think) said the test should be if on balance of probability the tribunal thought that a reasonable man could think Ali’s comments were antisemitic. Mr Gottlieb thought it should be ‘would’ not ‘could’. Mr Cannon thought the test should simply be ‘are they antisemitic?’

Nazim Ali’s oral witness statement was preceded by Mr Gottlieb saying that Ali felt he has a right to a  private life and that the GPhC should not be conducting an inquisition into it.

Ali had completed a written statement, part of which he read out (after some personal details: DOB 22.11.68, 2 children age 14 and 19; born in Pakistan, family came to UK 1969, settled in Bolton, father a tailor). He deeply regretted the offence he had caused and apologised unreservedly. He is not and never has been antisemitic. He never wanted to cause pain. He accepts that what he said was insensitive. None of his Jewish customers has ever complained that he is antisemitic. His family lived in a back-to-back in Bolton and he experienced extensive discrimination when he was a child. There were no Jewish children at his primary school but he went to a private secondary school and there was a Jewish boy called Stephen [I didn’t hear the surname] with whom he had debates about the Middle East but always friendly.  He became President of the Palestine Society at Sunderland University [when he was there it was Sunderland Technical College]. He wanted to study medicine but all the interview questions he was asked were racist. There was a Jewish Society with which the Palestine Society had debates. After he qualified as a pharmacist he worked for Boots in Brent Cross London, in the middle of a Jewish area. After moving to manage a pharmacy in Edgware Road he opened his own pharmacy in Streatham. David Collier yesterday had alleged that he had a history of antisemitism but there had been no complaints in the past.

His intention at the Al Quds march had been to highlight the plight of the Palestinians. His comments were unscripted. The reaction was horrible. The Al Quds marches had never been controversial and he never dreamed that his utterances over the loudhailer would be reported so widely.

David Collier yesterday had asked him why it had taken three years to apologise. His response was that he had never appeared in Court or a hearing before – so had not had the opportunity.

Andrew Colman QC started the examination of Ali. After the Israel supporters had gathered at the front of the Al Quds March to stop it in Regent Street, Ali had said:

Can the stewards please ensure that the Zionists are removed from the front. They’re not happy enough occupying Palestine, they’re trying to occupy Regent Street. It’s in their genes, it’s in their genetic code. European alleged Jews.

Ali was adamant that there was no connection between Judaism – a religion – and Zionism – an ideology. Zionists did not have to be Jewish and many Jews were not Zionists. How then, asked Mr Colman, could Ali speak of Zionists as having a  ‘genetic code’? Ali said that was just a figure of speech. It was like saying top class footballers have football in their genes. Mr Colman then accused Ali of saying that all Jews are occupiers. Again Ali responded by drawing  a sharp distinction between Jews and Zionists.

What – asked Mr Colman – did Ali mean by “European alleged Jews”? After a long pause, Ali referred to ‘interfaith’. Muslims are asked to have interfaith relations with Jews. “But” (he said) “we do have a problem with Zionists”. Rabbi Beck of Neturei Karta (NK) had made a comment in a Vice documentary to the effect that Zionist Jews are not real Jews, that they are alleged Jews. Ali didn’t know the ins and outs of that, he was just repeating what Rabbi Beck said. He wasn’t sat in a seminar and he had been called a ‘paedo’ several times.

Mr Colman asked if NK is representative of the majority of Jews: “No. Jews who support Israel are not Rabbis.”

Mr Colman said that the Grenfell Tower inferno (14 June 2017) happened four days before the Al Quds march. Nazim Ali blamed “the Zionist supporters of the Tory Party” for the fire … “It is the Zionists who give money to the Tory Party to kill people in high-rise blocks”. Ali agreed it was offensive. Mr Colman suggested it was an antisemitic trope about Jewish control and power. Ali disagreed: not all Jews are Zionists, he said.

There was then a break. The hearing resumed at 12:45 with questions from the tribunal members. Mr Cannon wanted to clarify Ali’s comment about ‘European alleged Jews’. Was Ali simply reporting Rabbi Beck’s words? Yes. In a  documentary in 2015 Rabbi Beck said that Jews who support Israel are not real Jews.

And what about the comment that Rabbis should be excluded from ‘your centres’?

Careful, careful, careful, of those Rabbis who belong to the Board of Deputies, who’ve got blood on their hands, who agree with the killing of British soldiers. Do not allow them in your centres

Ali again referred to interfaith activities. Muslims should not be talking to Jews who support Israel.

The second tribunal member, Raj Parekh, asked Ali if he felt he had breached any of the standards of conduct set out by the GPhC, particularly #6:

Nazim Ali said he had not breached any of them. His views on the Middle East are part of his private life and he has never sought to indoctrinate others with them (Standard #1). Mr Parekh asked how Ali’s patients would perceive his outbursts at 2017 Al Quds? Ali said they would view  them badly but if they knew the context they would understand. 

The third tribunal member, Mrs Claire Bonnet, asked Ali what impact his outbursts had on the pharmacy profession and its members. “Embarrassing” he replied. Mrs Bonnet asked, was that all?

Analysis

One: Regarding the initial discussion of the judgment of antisemitism: No, Ms Zouq, Mr Cannon, Mr Colman and Mr Gottlieb: It is not down to the ‘reasonable man’ to make that call – It is down to the victims, ie Jews! It is the fundamental right of a minority to state what it finds offensive and then to judge if the line has been crossed. I’ll make it easy for you. ‘Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews‘ is antisemitic, by IHRA definition. At the 2017 Al Quds march, Nazim Ali crossed this line 24 times.

The lack of expertise in antisemitism and Jewish Affairs among the decision makers and their advisers in this hearing is a real problem. In combination with similar errors, it could even lead to the wrong outcome!

Two: Incredibly Ali seemed unfamiliar with the GPhC’s Standards of Conduct! When they were placed before him it seemed that he was reading them for the first time and he maintained that they only apply to his worklife – which is wrong. How is it possible for a pharmacist to be unaware of the Standards set by his regulator – even when he is up for a disciplinary hearing?

Three: Ali’s explanation as to why it took three years to apologise is derisory.

Four: He denied he has a history of antisemitism – but what is marching with Hezbollah flags for twenty years, if not antisemitic? Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation whose aim is the destruction of the Jewish State.

Five: He suggests that the links between Zionism and Judaism are at best tenuous. That’s ridiculous. Israel is the only State of Jewish character; Jews pray to Jerusalem four times a day; over 90% of British Jews have close links to Israel; more Jews live in Israel than anywhere else. Most Christian Zionists support Israel BECAUSE of these factors. Anti-Zionist Jews like NK are a tiny extremist fringe.

Six: Despite the lack of proper advice from experts in Judaism and antisemitism, the Tribunal must dismiss Nazim Ali’s references to NK as supporting him. NK is a tiny sect, numbering 5,000 worldwide at most or 0.03% of the world’s Jews. There are no ‘Rabbis’ in NK – at least no ‘Rabbis’ that are recognised as such by mainstream Judaism. The vast majority of Jews abhor NK. NK attends Holocaust Denial ‘conferences’ in Iran – whose leaders are sworn to drive Israel into the sea. NK rejoiced when a Rabbi from Israel was murdered by terrorists in Mumbai: NK were never better shown for the scum they are than by the leaflet they put out after the murder of Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife in the Mumbai terrorist massacre in November 2008.

What might be the outcome?

Here are the possibilities

Nazim Ali does not accept that anything he said was antisemitic. His apology has clearly only come because he fears consequences for his pharmacy business. Anything less than suspension will be yet another kick in the teeth for the UK Jewish Community.