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GPhC: Pharmacist handed warning over 'antisemitic' remarks at political rally

A redetermination fitness-to-practise (FtP) hearing has made findings against a pharmacist for two remarks made at a 2017 pro-Palestinian rally.

A pharmacist has been issued with a warning by the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) FtP committee for two remarks that he made at a rally in June 2017 that it found were "antisemitic" at a redetermination hearing held on August 29-31.

Nazim Hussain Ali – registration number 2041615 – was leading the Al Quds rally, an annual march in Central London in support of Palestinian rights, when he made four remarks that were alleged to have been “antisemitic”, according to the determination documents

The committee accepted that Mr Ali had "apologised unreservedly" for his remarks and shown "insight" into his conduct. Nevertheless, it found that the comments were "likely to cause distress" and had impaired Mr Ali's fitness to practise.

It ruled that two out of four of the comments were "antisemitic".

 

"Grossly offensive" comments

 

Mr Ali, then the managing partner of Chelsea Pharmacy in London as well as performing as a stand-up comedian, was originally served with a warning by an FtP committee in November 2020 after it determined that the remarks were “grossly offensive”.

Read more: High Court: GPhC FtP ‘erred in approach’ to alleged antisemitism case

At the time, the GPhC committee concluded that “most reasonable people” would not consider the comments to be antisemitic.

But following the determination, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) lodged an appeal in the High Court expressing concerns that the committee had “erred in its approach”. 

In June 2021, Judge Justice Johnson quashed the ruling and handed the case back to the GPhC to reconsider, finding that the committee “wrongly took account of Mr Ali’s intention when assessing whether his language was objectively antisemitic”. 

 

"Assess objective meaning"

 

The High Court instructed the committee to “assess the objective meaning” of Mr Ali’s remarks “taken as a whole” and not to consider his “subjective intention and good character” or the reaction of “other audiences in other contexts”.

Since Mr Ali had admitted at the initial hearing that the remarks under interrogation were “offensive”, the redetermination hearing held last month only looked at whether the remarks were antisemitic, which Mr Ali had denied.

Read more: GPhC: Pharmacist’s ‘grossly offensive’ remarks result in FtP warning

The committee applied a “reasonable person” test, which included assumed knowledge of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Read more: ‘Manipulated’ pharmacist suspended for dispensing fraudulent fentanyl scripts

Mr Ali’s remarks that were under scrutiny were:

  • ‘It’s in their genes. The Zionists are here to occupy Regent Street. It’s in their genes, it’s in their genetic code.’
  • ‘European alleged Jews. Remember brothers and sisters, Zionists are not Jews.’
  • ‘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.’
  • ‘They are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell. The Zionist supporters of the Tory Party.’

 

“Hostility to Jewish people”

 

On the first remark referring to “genes”, the committee noted that Mr Ali had “specifically stated” that people should not conflate the terms Zionist and Jew “numerous” times throughout the rally.

It also considered that the march had met a pro-Zionist counter-demonstration that appeared to block its progress and found that Mr Ali had been “drawing a parallel” between the counter-protest “occupying” the street and anti-Zionist criticism of the Israeli state that it “occupies” Palestinian land. 

It determined that Mr Ali’s comment would not be interpreted by “a reasonable person” to connect Zionism to all Jewish people and that it was therefore “not antisemitic”.

Read more: Locum handed three-month suspension for showing colleague picture of penis

On the second remark relating to “European alleged Jews”, the committee found that this was “not…comprehensible” and therefore could not be found to be antisemitic.

It concluded that “a reasonable person” would interpret Mr Ali as saying that “Zionists” do not encompass all “Jews” and noted that denying that people are Jewish is not found in the IHRA definition of antisemitism – ruling that this remark too was “not antisemitic”.

On the third remark, the committee found that Mr Ali had expressed a view that “certain categories” of people – the “imposters” – are not “proper representatives” of Jewish people.

Read more: Legal view: What effect are delays having on fitness-to-practise proceedings?

Although Mr Ali had made distinctions between Zionists and Jewish people at other points in the march, the committee felt that this remark showed a “hostility to Jewish people” and was therefore “antisemitic”.

And on the fourth comment relating to the Grenfell fire that occurred just days before the march, the committee found that Mr Ali made a “highly tenuous” connection between Zionism, the Conservative party’s “austerity” policies and the Grenfell disaster.

It determined that this comment would also be considered “antisemitic”, as a “reasonable person” would understand it to mean that “Zionist” was synonymous with “Jew”, making the remark an example of the “world Jewish conspiracy” trope that Jews control the UK government or other institutions. 

 

“Genuine remorse”

 

The committee noted that Mr Ali showed “no intention” to be offensive or antisemitic, had “apologised for being offensive” and had “accepted” with regret that his remarks could have been interpreted as antisemitic.

The committee felt that Mr Ali had displayed “a considerable degree of insight” about his remarks, as well as “genuine remorse”.

Read more: FtP: GPhC takes action in six online pharmacy cases over less than a year

It noted too that the comments were not “scripted”, occurred as he was fasting and leading an hours-long “politically charged event” on a hot day and came as he encountered “abuse from counter-demonstrators”.

The committee determined that the comments were “not indicative of an underlying attitudinal failing” and that there was “no risk of repetition”, noting that Mr Ali had not made similar remarks in the six years since the incident, including when leading subsequent marches.

 

“Serious misconduct”

 

The GPhC said that it would be “perverse” if the committee did not find that Mr Ali’s fitness to practise was impaired.

The committee noted that he is required by the standards for pharmacy professionals “to behave appropriately at all times”, even in his private life, and determined that his remarks “amounted to serious misconduct”.

Read more: ‘Overwhelmed’ locum suspended for four months over codeine payment mix-up

It kept in mind that Mr Ali had not made the remarks while acting as a pharmacist and that he presented “many positive testimonials” to this effect, ruling that Mr Ali “posed no actual or potential risk” to his patients.

Nevertheless, the committee determined that his remarks “were likely to cause distress” and “brought the profession into disrepute”.

In particular, it said that the comments regarding Grenfell Tower were “particularly offensive” as they were made “when feelings and emotions were at their rawest and therefore would have deepened the hurt, harm and offence”.

 

GPhC warning

 

The committee ruled that suspension would be an inappropriate sanction and instead issued Mr Ali with a warning.

It said that his “future behaviour and comments that he makes must at all times avoid undermining the reputation of the profession or the reputation of the regulator and must uphold the required standards of the pharmacy profession”.

The warning “reminded” Mr Ali that “behaving professionally is not limited to the working day, or face to face interactions” and that the “privilege of being a pharmacist and the importance of maintaining confidence in the profession calls for appropriate behaviour at all times”.

Read the determination in full here 

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