Solicitor’s tweets moved from legitimate argument to antisemitism

Tweets: Solicitor sent messages to KC and journalist

The solicitor struck off for tweets on Israel and Palestine shifted from making potentially valid political points “to being purely offensive and stooping to use racist and antisemitic language”, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has ruled.

During the course of the hearing, it said, Farrukh Najeeb Husain’s position “transitioned from portraying himself as a stout defender of freedom of speech to being a person who had been angry and depressed and not able to control his impulses when sending offensive and antisemitic tweets”.

This shed light on his “lack of restraint, lack of judgement and lack of insight on his conduct”.

The SDT said it was concerned that he would behave “in similar vein with clients and members of the public who did not share his views or who he perceived were challenging him”.

Mr Husain identified himself as a lawyer in his Twitter biography and mentioned at times that he was a solicitor specialising in employment law.

We reported in February that Mr Husain, who qualified in 2014, had been struck off for multiple tweets on the Israel/Palestine conflict back in 2021 aimed primarily at Simon Myerson KC, as well as Hugo Rifkind, a journalist at The Times. Both are Jewish.

There were offensive tweets on other ethnicities and sexualities as well, while Mr Husain had been offensive to the official at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) investigating him, calling her “a Zionist apologist and fascist” and accusing her of being against him because of comments he had made about Sikhs.

The full, 112-page ruling has now been published. The SDT summarised Mr Husain’s position as being that he was not antisemitic and the specific tweets were not antisemitic, albeit he accepted some may have been offensive, for which he was apologetic.

Rather they demonstrated “his rightful and angry commentary on the plight of Palestinians and the policies of the Israeli government towards them”.

However, if such tweets were considered offensive, his view was that it was part and parcel of freedom of speech, and of the robust nature of Twitter, where insults were traded.

The SDT found Mr Husain to be “ardent and passionate in his beliefs” – he was knowledgeable about the history of the Middle East and of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and so his use of language “could not be viewed as any other than a precise expression of his thinking; it had not been accidental”.

Some of the tweets had expressed his position “bluntly and robustly yet without recourse to offensive language”, but others crossed the line to be “objectively antisemitic, albeit in some cases written in a way to obscure the true meaning which lay beneath, and others where overtly offensive language was used, some with crude sexual references”.

The SDT, which considered multiple definitions of antisemitism in testing the tweets, stressed that expressing anti-Zionist views was not in itself necessarily antisemitic unless they also “demonstrated a hatred or prejudice towards Jews”.

A number of the tweets did this by drawing upon “highly offensive and (in the tribunal’s findings) antisemitic slurs and tropes including references to a Jew as being a ‘pig’ and equating the treatment of Palestinians directly with the Jewish experience of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust”.

Mr Husain’s references to ‘Eastern-European kin’ – one tweet read “Rifkind is a Zionist pig supporting theft of Palestine for his Eastern European kin” – and ‘having walls’ and ‘wanting to take ur money’ were “both historical and modern connotations, references or stereotypes often used against Jews. In this context, the word Zionist appeared to be as a substitute for Jew”.

The tribunal also found that he “often conflated antisemitism, anti-Zionism and opposition to the Israeli government”.

It went on: “The legitimate conclusion to be drawn from the tweets when viewing them collectively was that they demonstrated hostility towards Jews because they are Jewish, not because they are Israeli/pro the Israeli government or Zionist in their ideology or supporters of the Zionist movement.”

The SDT also observed that no one who engaged with Mr Husain used racist or bigoted language against him “and this tended to negate [his] submission that the tweets had been part of fast-moving and robust dialogue in which insults were traded”.

It said a solicitor identifying himself as such was in “a qualitatively different position to an unregulated individual with no professional affiliations, duties, and obligations”.

Whilst solicitors and their employees were not required to be ‘paragons of virtue’, the SDT said, they were legitimately subject to a higher ethical standard than that imposed on ordinary citizens. “This is a condition of their membership of the profession.”

The fact he had volunteered the fact that he was a solicitor indicated that Mr Husain was using his membership of the profession “to add a level of legitimacy and gravitas to his public profile and to the arguments he propounded on Twitter as the respondent would have known that the ‘solicitor brand’ is something in which the public places great store”.

Had he been using Twitter in a purely personal capacity, he would have had no reason to refer to being a solicitor.

Mr Husain said he had been suffering from depression but the SDT said this did not excuse his behaviour – there was no medical evidence that this meant he did not know what he was doing or why it would have caused him to be antisemitic “and use racist and inappropriate sexualised language”.

Despite saying he was apologetic, the SDT said it had seen no evidence of genuine insight. “He had described his apology to Mr Myerson as a ‘British apology’; presumably this meant that it was not a real apology.

“This was perhaps an encapsulation of the case i.e., that the respondent was a clever man who knew that certain words and language may be selected to mask true and intended meaning.”

It concluded: “This was a case where there had been many examples of antisemitic rhetoric, vulgar and offensive language, and racism. This had been ingrained behaviour and the respondent had shown himself to be without contrition or insight.

“In such circumstances the protection of the public and public confidence in the profession along with the reputation of the profession required no lesser sanction than that the respondent be removed from the roll.”

The tribunal also advised solicitors using Twitter to avoid using it “when in a state of anger and to refrain from sending messages until they had a clear head and reclaimed their objectivity”.

The SRA sought costs of £41,000 and, while the SDT said Mr Husain should pay them in principle, his impecuniosity was such that it made no order for costs, as they were unlikely ever to be paid.

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