Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Parliamentary virtue signalling

Today the British parliament discussed the Israeli destruction of the village of Khan al Ahmar. The sight was deeply depressing. The minister, Mr Burt, speaking on behalf of the government, fielded trenchant criticisms of Israel from all sides of the House. But none of it made any difference whatsoever.

The minister acknowledged that Israel is behaving contrary to international law, that its actions make peace and a two state solution even more distant, that Israel is not prepared to listen to reason. Yet, he made it perfectly plain that the British government is not prepared to do anything more than ask the government of Israel to show restraint - a restraint that by his own admissions, he knows Israel will not show.

This debate in the House was futile, and as Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry expressed it, a waste of breath. Israel violates international law and commits war crimes, systematically. The British government, when pressed, expresses regret and calls for restraint, whilst knowing full well that its words will have no effect. For decades, Israel has violated international law, has flouted United Nations resolutions, has systematically pursued policies that make the possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state ever more remote. And the British government has tacitly colluded in this.

When members of parliament suggested that finally the time had come for the British government to take some practical action, the minister fended off by asserting that the government was in discussions with its international partners. The debate ended with no requirement that the government do anything whatsoever.

The Americans have an expression: virtue signalling. It refers to the conspicuous, but empty because without effect, expression of one's moral values. And that is precisely what happened in this parliamentary debate. No action whatsoever is to be taken by the British government in response to Israel's violations of international law. The only purpose served by the debate was the expression by parliament of its own assumed moral superiority.

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