Essex cricket says ex-chair was not antisemitic, just 'supportive of Islamic beliefs'

Probe into Azeem Akhtar was launched after JC revealed he liked tweet about 'Zionist lobby'


Essex County Cricket Club is facing a backlash after it ruled its chairman, who liked a tweet saying the “Zionist lobby” had “oversized” control of the media, was “supportive of the Islamic faith and beliefs as opposed to being antisemitic”.

The club decided not to sack Azeem Akhtar, saying that his social media activity, including his approval of Twitter comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany — which was revealed in a JC investigation — merely reflected his “religious and political affiliations”.

The club’s spokesperson went on to say it respected Akhtar’s “integrity”, insisting that his social media posts, including another that celebrated athletes boycotting the Jewish state, were “supportive of the Islamic faith and beliefs”.

In response the Board of Deputies said it was “deeply concerned by the findings of this review”. It added: “The comments endorsed by Mr Akhtar were antisemitic under any reasonable definition. We have been in contact with Essex County Cricket Club to express our dismay and request clarification on the process which led them to this conclusion.”

The Jewish Leadership Council added: “It’s frankly insulting to defend Mr Akhtar’s endorsement of an antisemitic trope as ‘supportive of the Islamic faith’.

“Who are these independent consultants and how have they come to this conclusion?”

Despite being exonerated by the investigation into his conduct, Mr Akhtar, a former board member of Sport England, announced he was stepping down from his role at the County, saying the inquiry had “taken its toll” on him and his family. Mr Akhtar was the club’s first ethnic minority chairman and was appointed 12 months after a racism scandal led to the ousting of his predecessor.

His appointment had been intended to “signal the beginning of a new era for the club” following the row and a similar racism scandal at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

But within weeks Essex were forced to order an internal investigation after the JC revealed that, in a tweet, Mr Akhtar had declared: “It is not offensive to say that the Pro–Israel and Zionist lobby have deep pockets and oversized influence/control over the media.”

It was also revealed that the cricket boss had liked a tweet that claimed: “Comparing Israel with Nazis is not antisemitic.

“In fact, many Jewish people have done so themselves.”

He had also backed another post which said: “Zionism has very little connection with Judaism but very close relationship with fascism and white supremacy.”

In a statement, Essex CCC said that, following the revelations, “due diligence conducted by the specialist consultants concluded Azeem’s social media activity to be ‘supportive of the Islamic faith and beliefs as opposed to being antisemitic or indicating any other forms of racism’”. The club said it was “sorry to announce that Azeem Akhtar has decided not to continue as Chair of Essex”.

It added: “Essex respects the integrity Azeem has shown throughout this due diligence process, which found no evidence of antisemitism or racism by him.

“The club acknowledges again Azeem’s all-round skill set and strength of character for the leadership role for which he was selected and is sorry to announce his resignation.

“We look forward to his continued support of the team. We thank Azeem and wish him well in the future.”

Mr Akhtar said: “These last few weeks have been very difficult for my family and me.

“This has taken a toll on us and I am determined to do justice to my other professional and personal commitments.

“I am passionately committed to fighting all kinds of discrimination whether that be antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other kind of prejudice.

“As concluded, my social media activity is reflective of my religious and political affiliations and the strong humanitarian stance I take on conflicts around the world.

“ECCC must lead the way… in being a genuinely diverse and inclusive club.”

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