Israel should free whistle-blower Vanunu helped to reveal secret nuclear arsenal

November 08, 1998|By Samuel H. Day Jr.

ONCE AGAIN, ISRAEL is pressing the United States to release Jonathan Pollard, a former Pentagon analyst who has been imprisoned 12 years for spying for Israel.

But who will plead for Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli technician who has served an equally long time for the crime of going public with his country's secret nuclear-weapons program?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu almost blocked the recent Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreement over President Clinton's refusal to grant immediate release to Pollard. Many Israelis view Pollard as a hero for copying American classified documents that he believed Israel needed for its defense.

Israeli leaders in recent years have pleaded with the White House to intervene on behalf of Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison at Butner, N.C. Israeli Cabinet officers have visited him and tried to negotiate with the Justice Department for his release.

But no government has negotiated for Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear worker who acted on his own 12 years ago in giving information to a British newspaper that showed Israel had secretly built a major nuclear-weapons arsenal. Kidnapped by Israeli agents, he was returned to Israel in chains, tried in secret and sentenced to 18 years in prison, most of which he has served in solitary confinement.

A whistle-blower rather than a spy, Vanunu, unlike Pollard, took no pay and worked for no foreign government. Vanunu, unlike Pollard, has the support of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Alerting the world to his country's secret spread of nuclear weapons, Vanunu served the interests of our government's professed opposition to nuclear proliferation. Yet, far from recognizing his contribution, successive U.S. presidents have ignored both Vanunu's suffering and the nuclear transgressions of our major Middle Eastern ally. U.S. policy has focused on lesser nuclear proliferation in other countries, such as Iraq and North Korea.

Netanyahu has urged Clinton to grant clemency because, he argues, Pollard has suffered enough for what was at least in part an ideological crime. That argument applies equally to Vanunu, whose crime served not only U.S. policy but the interests of humanity.

Free Jonathan Pollard if you must, Mr. President, but insist that Israel free Mordechai Vanunu.

Samuel H. Day Jr. is a free-lance writer based in Madison, Wis., and is coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu. Readers may write to him at: Progressive Media Project, 409 E. Main St., Madison, Wis. 53703.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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