If a conflict was ever invented for the sole purpose of demonstrating the concept of virtue signalling, the ongoing Hamas attacks on Israel’s borders with Gaza would be it.
My own country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is an example of the typical world reaction to the conflict. Compared to some other world leaders, including the inane reaction of Turkey’s Erdogan, Trudeau‘s reaction was mild, but it still displayed the unmistakable elements of virtue signalling.
The Oxford Dictionary defines virtue signalling as “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue”. Contrary to moral behavior, virtue signalling aims to appear moral, without regard to whether it is in fact moral.
The border conflict in Gaza has resulted in many casualties, therefore stopping the conflict is a legitimate moral imperative, but the question is how to stop it. Trudeau’s reaction, like the reaction of many world leaders, consisted of accusing Israel of using “excessive force”.
Whether Israel has used excessive force or not, I do not know, and anyone who is not a military expert on the scene and who is honest will admit this much. However, considering that Israel has a consistent history of being extremely careful to avoid civilian casualties, a friend such as Canada would be expected to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, and not to make unproven accusations.
What Hamas has called “peaceful demonstrations” are in fact violent attacks by tens of thousands of Palestinians aiming to breach the Israeli border. Many breaches have been attempted, and some were even successful. Whether Israel is using excessive force or not, its use of force is perfectly legitimate in defending its borders against aggression.
If one is sincere about ending the deaths of Palestinians, one must at least attempt to stop the Hamas-led provocations on Israel. This is the only way to put an end to the Palestinian deaths and casualties. Yet Trudeau made did not even mention Hamas in his statement.
Trudeau had a choice. He could have showed courage and moral leadership like Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, by denouncing Hamas for creating a situation that forces Israel to defend itself, or he could have followed the crowd and made unsubstantiated accusations against Israel in order to appear to do the right thing.
By choosing the latter, Trudeau and many other world leaders demonstrated the practice of virtue signalling.