The Labour Party’s tangles over anti-Semitism and Zionism raise basic questions about Western values that are routinely ignored. But sometimes we do need to go back to basics.
A central plank of the ideology of the West is pluralism – the belief that a state should allow the co-existence of various ethnicities and religions, and treat all its citizens equally. It is a slippery plank – some countries, including us, have traditions that technically contravene this principle (we have an established Church, for example). Also, there is an element of hypocrisy in almost every country’s avowal of ethnic and cultural pluralism. In reality, most citizens expect these things to be limited: they are good liberals as long as they feel the country’s core traditions are being maintained. We should therefore try to avoid a self-righteous attitude to countries that seem to reject the principle of pluralism: maybe their circumstances make it very difficult for them to uphold this principle in the short term.
And yet, we should object to countries that explicitly scorn the principle. We should object to a state that upholds one religion so rigidly that other faiths, or non-faiths, are persecuted. Unfortunately that means most Muslim majority states. We should object to states that oppose immigration with an assertive rhetoric of ethnic and religious unity: Hungary and others are moving in that direction.
And should we also frown at Israel? Surely its official privileging of one ethnicity, and its defiant assertion that the Arab minority should not be accorded full citizens’ rights, contravenes the principle of pluralism. Or does this nation’s history and geography mean that the normal rules do not apply? If we believe in the principle of pluralism, we will be uneasy about this state. But we should make sure that our unease is not excessive, that we are not more indignant about this example of pluralism defied than about the others round the world.