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Around the Gaza crisis there has been a lot of pushback talk to the effect that calls for a ceasefire are “gesture politics” - in other words indulgent and meaningless signalling that will achieve nothing.

First of all there is a bottom line. There are situations when silence is complicity. Take the famous picture in which one man in a huge crowd of Nazi saluters keeps his right arm lowered. His refusal (ironically a refusal to share in a gesture) was a gesture. He might have reasoned: “What is the point of me not saluting? It will make no difference and probably will get me into real and serious trouble.”

He might have countered that with two arguments. There was a chance (however remote) that others might have followed his example, might have been waiting for a lead from a braver person. He could have sparked off something huge. Cue the lad and the Emperor’s new clothes. A fine example is the woman in the Moscow crowd watching a file of German POWs being marched through the streets. There was jeering, hissing and spitting - then this one woman approached the file and thrust a bit of bread into the hands of a pale and starving boy. There was an electric pause and then other women joined in and soon from all around they were handing over food from their own meagre rations. The non-saluter might also have said that his conscience would not allow him to comply – that’s the bottom line with no allowance made for outcomes or result.

And here is another slice of irony. The nods of compliance with the official US line on the destruction and slaughter coming regularly from Sunak and Scholz (and of course from Starmer and his acolytes) are fine examples of cringe-worthy gesture politics and virtue signalling. Watch how they adjust the set of their sails to catch the Washington wind.

As as for effectiveness, Jonathon Shafi has put it well: “Those saying “passing a ceasefire motion makes no difference anyway” are advocating for nihilism across all politics. We are not fools - it is one part of a concerted and sustained campaign. It is also in the public interest to know where politicians stand on historic events.” And indeed the effect can already be seen in adjustments (however slight) to the US position.


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