Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 27 April 2007
Small things can cheer you up sometimes, and this week’s small thing for me was that Segolene Royal came second in the first round of the French presidential election. I spent Sunday night feeling pleased.
I’m not entirely sure why it did the trick. It was only the first round, for heaven’s sake, and she has a lot to do to win. She won only 26 per cent of the vote, and only 11 per cent of voters chose far-left no-hopers in the first round and have nowhere else to go. (Note in passing here the pathetic showing by the candidate of the once mighty French Communist Party, who took less than 2 per cent of the vote.)
After that, it’s grim. Royal desperately needs suport from people who backed the centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round — 19 per cent of the extraordinary 85 per cent of voters who turned out — and from supporters of the fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen (11 per cent). She’ll get few of the latter (though more than many expect) but her real problem is the people who voted for Bayrou. The opinion polls suggest that more than half of them will vote for the scary Nicolas Sarkocy, the right-wing candidate Royal has to beat in the second round, who got 31 per cent last weekend. As I write, Royal’s plea to Bayrou for a second-round alliance — a daring but desperate move — has not been answered.
At least, though, it isn’t a repeat of 2002, when self-indulgent leftists voting Trot, Stalinist and Green denied the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin a place in the second round, leaving Jacques Chirac to fight it out with Le Pen — with no choice for anyone decent but voting for Chirac as the lesser of two evils. Even if it looks as if Royal has too much ground to make up before the second round, she does have an outside chance, and that in itself is progress on five years ago.
On another subject entirely, I was shocked and surprised by the news last week that the annual delegate meeting of the National Union of Journalists, of which I have been a member for nearly 25 years, has voted to boycott Israeli products.
I can see the rationale for the boycott: I’m no fan of the current Israeli administration, which has done nothing to promote a lasting peace deal with the Palestinians and a lot to reduce the likelihood of such a deal. And I think that it’s perfectly legitimate for the west to put pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table, give up the West Bank settlements, tear down the wall and so on.
My problem is that I don’t think that the NUJ boycotting Israeli goods is a very clever way of putting pressure on the Israeli government to do these things. The NUJ is tiny, so there is no way that the boycott, even if observed by every one of its members, could have any significant impact on the Israeli economy. Politically, however, the boycott has a much greater impact — and it is entirely counterproductive if the goal is to get the Israeli government back to the negotiating table to talk about a workable two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
If NUJ members (or indeed anyone else outside Israel/Palestine) are serious about doing their bit to facilitate a lasting peace deal, they should be encouraging dialogue and compromise between Israelis and Palestinians and discouraging confrontation. Boycotting Israeli goods can only do the opposite. On one hand, it gives succour — if only a thimbleful — to Hamas, Hizbullah and all the others who would like to see Israel destroyed and reject all compromise with “the Zionist entity”. On the other, it reinforces (if only a little) the defensive mindset of the Israeli diehards who see nothing but enemies in the outside world.
In my view, rather than boycotting Israel, we should be doing precisely the opposite: arguing for more trade with both Israel and the Occupied Territories, more cultural and educational exchanges, more tourism and so on.
So, much as I respect the role of the NUJ’s ADM in setting union policy, I have no intention of observing the boycott. Indeed, as I write I have a friend searching out a selection of kosher delicacies in Israel that I hope she will deliver when she gets back to Britain next week. I invite the NUJ executive to discipline me for my flagrant and wilful breach of union policy.
The current London Review of Books is a very good one, with half-a-dozen must-read articles — one of them an elegaic review of recent books about the Communist Party of Great Britain by the eminent Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, the only prominent intellectual who stuck with the CPGB to the bitter end.
It is a fascinating piece, nowhere more so than when Hobsbawm claims that during the second world war, British communists “would have gone underground if they had had to, as they did on the Continent ..., and organised resistance to the German occupation”. Not in 1940 they wouldn’t, comrade. That was when the Hitler-Stalin pact was in operation. Remember?