A registered pharmacist who blamed “Zionists” for Grenfell and called rabbis “imposters” during the Al-Quds Day rally in June 2017 has been given a warning by his professional body, in a landmark ruling.
The 72-page written judgement of a Fitness to Practice Committee convened by the General Pharmaceutical Council, published on Wednesday evening, concerned the conduct of Nazim Ali, whose comments were widely described as antisemitic.
Ali is the managing partner of Chelsea Pharmacy in London, who also performs as a stand-up comedian, and at the annual anti-Israel event – which is held on the streets of London – he led pro-Palestinian protesters, shouting insults into a loudspeaker.
Approaching a counter-protest, he said: “It’s in their genes. The Zionists are here to occupy Regent Street. It’s in their genes, it’s in their genetic code.” He also said: “European alleged Jews. Remember brothers and sisters, Zionists are not Jews.”
Further comments of his, about which he was asked during the hearing, included: “Any Zionist, any Jew coming into your centre supporting Israel, any Jew coming into your centre who is a Zionist, any Jew coming into your centre who is a member for the Board of Deputies, is not a rabbi, he’s an imposter.”
Among the most hurtful, however, was his comment that “they are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell, the Zionist supporters of the Tory Party”. His conduct prompted a complaint from the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA).
Three years ago, CAA first sought a private prosecution of Ali under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, but this was discontinued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, a decision the CAA later challenged in a judicial review.
The long-awaited General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) hearing two weeks ago considered this, alongside whether Ali’s conduct could “undermine the reputation of, and public confidence in, the profession”, whether his fitness to practice was impaired, and whether his conduct had brought the profession into disrepute.
Ali’s lawyer argued that, in determining whether his client was antisemitic, the Committee had “gone off the rails” and “entered an arena of private-life moral judgements that the Council had no locus to deal with” – a charge it rejected.
Ali had earlier apologised for his “grossly offensive” comments but denied that they were antisemitic. His lawyer said that if the allegation were that his comments “could be interpreted as antisemitic” then Ali would admit to this, without admitting “intention”.
However, the GPhC lawyer rejected this, saying “it would create a lack of clarity” and argued that the committee should consider “not how [the comments] were intended but how they would be heard by a reasonable observer”.
On Ali’s comments about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which happened just days before the rally, the GPhC said this “fitted all too neatly” into antisemitic tropes about Jews controlling secretly controlling the world, an allegation Ali denied.
Ali’s lawyer reminded the committee that the GPhC had not adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, nor had it drawn the definition to the attention of its members.
The hearing therefore relied in part on a dictionary definition of antisemitism, namely “hostility to Jews”. The committee’s legal advisor also said the IHRA definition defined ‘antisemitism’, not ‘antisemitic’, as per the allegation.
In its finding, the committee said two witnesses – pro-Israel bloggers David Collier and Jonathan Hoffman – were not “impartial” and “of little assistance,” noting that Hoffman had later gone to Ali’s pharmacy to see if he stocked Israeli products.
It also said that Ali’s comments had to be considered in context, in this case of a “pro-Palestine, anti-Zionist” demonstration “at which there was a counter-demonstration by supporters of the State of Israel,” adding: “Most reasonable people, knowing this, would not be surprised to hear the word ‘Zionists’ used that day by [Ali].”
In its ruling, the committee said Ali’s comments about Zionists “would only be thought antisemitic by most reasonable people if they believed additionally that when using this term what actually was meant was ‘Jews’.
“However the evidence was that [Ali] had repeatedly during the rally used words to the effect that ‘Zionists’ and ‘Jews’ must not be conflated, not least because some Jews who were not Zionists [Neturei Karta] were taking part in the Al-Quds day pro-Palestinian rally, and this too was part of the context that day.”
The committee relied on a definition of ‘Zionist’ as had earlier been defined in the CAA’s legal case against the DPP, namely “those who support the establishment and maintenance of Israel as a state”.
Taking each of Ali’s comments in turn, the committee said people “could indeed find the use of the term ‘imposter’ to describe a rabbi as straightforwardly antisemitic,” but said: “Nevertheless, in the context of the day and the explanation provided [Ali]… most reasonable people would not conclude that it was antisemitic”.
On his Grenfell comment, the committee found that Ali “was criticising the government for the policy of austerity” and that his use of the word ‘Zionist’ here was “consistent with the definition which distinguishes it from Jews”.
Whilst the committee said his comments could not be classed as antisemitic, they had still “brought disgrace upon the profession”, with his Grenfell comments “particularly offensive”. In sum, they amounted to “serious misconduct”.
The committee subsequently issued a warning to “send the appropriate message to the public and to the profession”, but Jewish activists said it only served to send the wrong message entirely.
Among the critics was Shimon Samuels of the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said anti-Zionism had been used “as a cover for antisemitism in its denial of Jewish self-determination, which represents most of Ali’s language”. Likewise, the CAA said the tribunal had “let Ali off”.
CAA investigations director Stephen Silverman said: “We are pleased that, due to our complaint, his regulator has now agreed that he brought his profession into disrepute. However, it is disappointing that it showed so little understanding of the issues at the hearing and only requested that the tribunal issue Mr Ali with a warning.
“After more than three years, at least we have succeeded in ensuring that Mr Ali’s record has been publicly marked and his disgrace made official.”
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