Critics of Israeli human rights abuses are often told: it is wrong to criticise the Israelis without criticising all those other Middle Eastern countries with a far worse human rights record. The argument goes that if you really want to oppose human rights abuses, you should first highlight the worst abuses of human rights and only then the less grevious ones. So let us apply this principle to the problem of antisemitism in the Labour party, and more generally in the UK. If you are a public figure wanting to make a stand against antisemitism, what extreme examples of it might you consider campaigning against before you turn your full attention to the UK and to the Labour party?

On the 25th of April 2018, a group of about fifty worthies from the Labour Party took to the streets to protest against antisemitism. A party disciplinary hearing was taking place and they were there to show solidarity with the main witness. The offending act was to stand up in a packed meeting and allege that a jewish Labour MP worked ‘hand in hand with the media’ — according to some an antisemitic trope, according to him a misinterpreted innocent remark. Perhaps we could help them think of different, more egregious, cases of anti-semitism that they, our elected representatives, could have spent their valuable time publicly opposing. After all, the UK is considered one of the countries where Jews feel at their safest.

They could have picked the Lithuanian embassy. The country lost 95% of its Jewish population during the Holocaust. The remainder had no choice but to fight with the Soviets and thus feed the ‘Bolshevik Jews’ antisemitic myth. Some of the worst perpetrators of the Holocaust in Lithuania fought the Soviets and are now considered national heroes, beyond any criticism. This has meant that any researcher into the Holocaust in the country faces opposition, persecution and intimidation. Whilst actively building relations with Israel on the international stage, the country condones the sort of Holocaust denial that would make Ken Livingstone sound like a member of the Labour Friends of Israel in comparison.

They could have picked the embassy of Ukraine. Under the current regime, glorification of the country’s Nazi collaborators, the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, is allowed. Led by Stepan Bandera, they took a full part in the Holocaust and Galicia (modern day West Ukraine), the area they mostly operated in, lost 90% of its Jewish population.That does not stop ‘Bandera Museums’ operating throughout West Ukraine. Indeed, in some cities one can get a guided tour by a guide bedecked in the OUN uniform. Bandera is not the only leader of a Ukrainian movement that murdered Jews en masse who is glorified — Semyon Petlyura , who in 1917–21 instituted pogroms that killed thousands of Jews, is another. In 2015, the Poroshenko government passed legislation that made it harder to research and publicly question the actions of such ‘Ukrainian heroes’.

They could have picked the Polish embassy. Poland recently passed a law that will make it a crime to attribute Holocaust crimes to the “Polish Nation or the Polish State”. By this law, historical research into crimes committed by rank and file Poles against Jews in 1939–45 (and also during some episodes before and after that period) could become punishable by up to three years in prison. The head of the Jerusalem branch of the Simon Wiesenthal centre stated that the issue of Holocaust distortion exists ‘in practically every country in post-communist Eastern Europe. Their new heroes’, he went on to explain, ‘are people who fought communists, some of whom killed Jews in the Shoah. They name streets and schools after them.’ Yet, the vast majority of the victims had nothing to do with Communism. Given that antisemitic attitudes are strong throughout the former Communist block, one has to wonder if there is an antisemitic element in this desire to hide history. The wave of antisemitic messages the Israeli embassy and the Auschwitz Museum has received over the latest law[1] certainly suggests this.

They could have picked the embassy of Turkey. The country’s leader (and hero of a certain Labour MP by the name of John Woodcock) has a tendency to blame ‘the spawn of Israel’ (an umbrella term for both Jews and his own internal opponents) for most of the country’s ills. Possibly as a result, the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and ‘Mein Kampf’ are widely distributed and read and newer books about the Jews wanting to, supposedly, seize world power are widely read as well. In 2015, an Erdogan-affiliated news channel suggested that it were “the mind of the Jews” that “rules the world, burns, destroys, starves, wages wars, organises revolutions and coups, and establishes states within states.” The main synagogue in Istanbul was attacked in 2003, killing 25 people (Jeremy Corbyn was one of the 136 MPs who signed a motion condemning the attack); it also is a regular target of violent protests. This terrible record on antisemitism has not stopped Erdogan being invited to visit the UK next month.

They could have picked the Saudi embassy. There, antisemitism is taught in schools and the Protocols are all but treated as historical fact. Hatred of Jews runs through the Saudi establishment from top to bottom. (The situation is much the same throughout the Middle East). The Saudi Crown prince visited the UK only last month despite those concerns.

They could have picked the Hungarian embassy. Its president, Viktor Orban, has waged a long-standing campaign against fellow Hungarian George Soros. He is treated as an enemy agent, as part of a world anti-Hungarian conspiracy and as a shadowy foreign figure pulling the strings — textbook antisemitism given that Soros is Jewish. Moreover, Orban praised Miklos Horthy, a fascist wartime leader of his country and a notorious antisemite, who stayed on as the puppet leader under the direct Nazi rule in 1944 whilst the Jewish population was sent to the death camps. The far right party Jobbik, who won 19% of the vote in the 2018 Parliamentary election, openly alleges a Jewish conspiracy against the Hungarians, of which the Treaty of Trianon is supposedly a particular episode. This did not stop BBC presented Andrew Neil openly associating with the Orban propaganda mouthpiece the Századvég Foundation.

And they could even have picked the US embassy. After being elected in 2016, Donald Trump hired Steve Bannon as his Chief Strategist. Bannon’s tenure in charge of Breitbart saw the alt-right website carry openly anti-semitic material. Moreover, Bannon has clear links with Richard Spencer, the antisemitic high priest of the alt-right. All of them profess to be a friend of Israel but it is very possible to be that and yet be an antisemite. In spite of those concerns about the Trump administration, Jonathan Arkush, the Chairman of the Board of Deputies, controversially congratulated him on winning the US presidency in 2016. Yet he must have watched on with horror as antisemitic incidents spiked under the current administration. Trump, like Erdogan, is due to visit the UK in the next few months.

All these are cherry-picked examples and there are many other, arguably worse, offenders across the world. But all the above countries are our allies, or at least countries that we consider to be on our side. We can and should be demanding better from them. The sight of Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Wes Streeting and others taking to the streets to make those demands would surely go a long way towards highlighting those issues and might in some cases force a real improvement in the situation in those countries.

Fighting these extreme brands of antisemitism is surely more important than publicly opposing a seasoned anti-racist campaigner for a remark he claims to have made in ignorance[2]. This remark bore only a tangential connection to the trope of ‘Jews controlling the media’ (there is a clear difference between ‘controlling’ and ‘being hand in hand with’). The activist, Marc Wadsworth, was in the end expelled for ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ when other options, such as diversity training, were available. He plans to appeal through the courts and to draw out this story even further[3].

The reply is all too often ‘let us get our own house in order and only then consider others’. But that principle only works up to a point. No doubt, there are clear, extreme antisemites — the Alan Bulls of this world — in the Labour party, and that needs to be dealt with. However, ‘going zero tolerance’ on episodes such as Wadsworth’s serves only to cause unnecessary divisions — through people taking sides — among those who fight antisemitism. Their ambiguity and the amount of debate they generate tend to distract from the far more clearly outrageous instances of antisemitism, such as those described above. Cutting Wadsworth some slack would have avoided this. Not every instance of antisemitism is equal in gravity and surely there is a point at which you let the borderline first-time offences go and instead draw attention to the bigger problems elsewhere.

Another possible objection is ‘but you are focusing only on the right-wing antisemitism, what about the antisemitism among the Left?’ I would say that this was not the intention, and that comparable instances of antisemitism in every part of the political spectrum should be treated in the same way. It just so happens that among some of our allies in this world the right-wing variety at the moment is far more oppressive and damaging.

So this concludes our exercise in what-aboutery: if one is to claim that it is mistaken to focus on the alleged Israeli human rights abuses and ignore the far bigger such abuses in many of the other Middle Eastern states, one surely has to also accept the fallacy of focusing on the alleged antisemitism in the UK (and specifically in the Labour party) to the exclusion of much bigger problems with antisemitism among some of our allies. Of course, getting your own house in order needs to happen, however putting on public shows of protest over (relatively speaking) minor issues and not using that energy to shed light on the far bigger ones elsewhere is wrong.

[1] And what is uncanny is that the people trying to defend the rights of Jews to speak the truth about the Holocaust in Poland are left-wing liberal anti-racists — the same kind of people as the ones being accused of anti-semitism in the UK.

[2] It must be noted that the full judgement has not come out yet. Wadsworth did have a real case to answer related to why he felt it acceptable to attack Labour MPs at a launch of a crucial report for the party. But it is the alleged antisemitism that caused the MP’s to make a public show of solidarity. How much it contributed to the verdict is not known, but it would be very interesting to learn how much expert evidence was sought to determine whether what Wadsworth said was an antisemitic trope or not.

[3] Wadsworth’s crowdfunding appeal can be found at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/justiceforantiracismcampaigner/.