Gush Shalom, The righteous Mordechai Vanunu

Mordechai Vanunu, 11 years ago. Wikimedia photo.

The United States released Pollard – now Israel should release Mordechai Vanunu

by Gush Shalom

Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, calls upon the Government of Israel to emulate the United States, which removed the limitation placed upon Jonathan Pollard, and remove the limitations which it itself placed on Mordechai Vanunu. Jonathan Pollard and Mordechai Vanunu were both arrested in 1986, in the United States and Israel respectively. Both were charged with espionage, though on very different grounds. Pollard had passed on to an Israeli agent classified information to which he had access due to his work in the US Naval Intelligence. Vanunu had provided to the London Sunday Times information about the production of nuclear arms at the Dimona Nclear Pile, which he gained while working there as a technician. Both were duly convicted of espionage. In the case of Vanunu the question arose whether passing classified information to a newspaper counts as “espionage”. The judges ruled that it does, since “publishing in the newspaper is tantamount to giving it to all enemy agents at once”.

The US Government and large parts of the American public opinion denounced Pollard as “a traitor”. The same – even more vociferously – was how the Israeli Government and much of public opinion treated Vanunu. Nevertheless, both of them gained groups of devoted supporters and adherents – on very divergent grounds. Peace activists and opponents of nuclear arms worldwide – and some also in Israel – warmly took up the case of Mordecahi Vanunu, hailing him as a heroic whistleblower. Vanunu was several times put up as candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, and he did win the Right Livelihood Award (“The Alternative Nobel Prize”) and various other awards and honors.

Jonathan Pollard gained support in an entirely different quarter, mainly from right wing Nationalist Israelis, who regarded him as a Jewish Zionist hero and even as an Israeli Patriot. Under intensive lobbying from this direction, the government of Israel granted Israeli citizenship to Pollard, still held in the American prison.

When Vanunu emerged from sixteen years behind bars, the government promptly imposed severe restrictions on him – the order for these restrictions signed by the Interior Minister, citing Emergency Powers left over from the time of British colonial rule. Vanunu had to report to the police any time he changed address, and was forbidden to leave Israel, to come near to any Embassy and also forbidden to speak to foreigners. In one case, he was detained and charged with having broken the restrictions in having had “a long conversation with a foreigner.” The “foreigner” in question turned out to be Vanunu’s Norwegian girlfriend.

Some years later, Pollard ended his own long prison term in the United States – and the American authorities, too, hastened to impose severe restrictions. Pollard was forbidden to leave the United States and go to Israel, which was what he wanted. In fact, he was restricted to the city of New York and forbidden to outside its boundaries.

This week, the restrictions on Pollard were finally lifted. He is now free, whenever he wants, to board a plane to Israel where he can be sure of welcome. But the Government of Israel, which lobbied the Americans and achieved this gesture for Pollard from the outgoing President Trump, itself has the power to end Vanunu’s restrictions, too. All that is needed is one signature of the Interior Minister on one paper.

This step should be taken with no further delay. Mordechai Vanunu has spent more than half his lifetime paying for an act which broke Israeli law but which he felt was morally justified – a view shared by many others.

Vanunu had asserted many times that he had already disclosed all classified information he ever had to the Sunday Times, and it had already become known to the whole world thirty-five years ago. Even if he does have any more information in his possession, it very obsolete information, decades out of date. There is no reason, except for pure vindictiveness, for forcing Vanunu to go on living in Israel, a country from which he feels alienated. He needs and deserves to be set free, to be allowed to fly off to Norway – a country which already years ago agreed to host him and where he can accept to be welcomed and live the rest of his life among friends.


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