Vanunu

by Chris Bertram on April 21, 2004

There’s been surprisingly little blog comment on the release of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli atom whistle-blower. He’s been released subject to outrageous restrictions on his freedom of association and movement. Jonathan Edelstein has a fairly balanced and moderate post on the subject, Gene at Harry’s place has a somewhat sneering one . But despite Edelstein’s reasonable tone, I can’t agree with him when he writes

Vanunu betrayed his country and chose illegal rather than lawful means to pursue his political agenda; it was his choice to go to a foreign newspaper with classified information rather than addressing his concerns to left-wing Israeli lawmakers.

The “betrayal of country” accusation strikes me as somewhat dubious. There have been plenty of whistleblowers in Britain—such a Clive Ponting, Sarah Tisdall and, most recently, Katharine Gun—who have gone to the press with details of possibly illegal and certainly immoral behaviour by Britain’s governments and defence establishment. But no-one has called them traitors. As far as I can see his crime was not to weaken Israel’s security by revealing genuine secrets, but to bring into the light of day facts about Israel’s nuclear programme that everyone knew but which couldn’t be admitted openly for political and diplomatic reasons. Do such revelations a traitor make? As for the accusation of using illegal means, that’s pretty laughable given that Vanunu was illegally kidnapped in Italy! Or is illegality ok for states but and not for their citizens?

{ 72 comments }

1

chun the unavoidable 04.21.04 at 10:44 pm

Israel’s treatment of Vanunu has been sadistic, sordid, and manifestly illegal. You could argue that he deserves a medal for enhancing Israel’s security, were it not for the fact that, as Chris mentions, every interested observer in the world knew that Dimona manufactured nuclear weapons.

Vanunu should have had better sense, as I write about in a post about this, than to fall for the most cliched espionage trick of all time, however. He was relatively safe in London, since the planners decided not to kill him outright, and since there were considerable tensions between Britain and Israel on the matter of embarrassing Mossad operations.

2

dsquared 04.21.04 at 10:44 pm

Unless Israel’s official secrets act is a) very different indeed from ours and b) really quite bizarre, it’s not lawful to reveal classified information to domestic politicians who haven’t got clearance.

3

chun the unavoidable 04.21.04 at 10:53 pm

Also, according to Haaretz, if you’ve ever bought real estate in Orlando, you might very well have dealt with the woman who lured Vanunu to Rome.

And what a great movie this would make. I can imagine the tears welling as Vanunu walks into the apartment in Rome, expecting a little sh (what’s the over-under on Mossad involvement in that Mirror story, btw?), only to get knocked out, sedated, and put on a boat to Israel. The final montage could have the secret court hearing interspersed with scenes from his eleven years of solitary confinement.

4

Jonathan Edelstein 04.21.04 at 11:24 pm

The “betrayal of country” accusation strikes me as somewhat dubious. There have been plenty of whistleblowers in Britain — such a Clive Ponting, Sarah Tisdall and, most recently, Katharine Gun — who have gone to the press with details of possibly illegal and certainly immoral behaviour by Britain’s governments and defence establishment. But no-one has called them traitors.

It’s the “certainly immoral” part that makes all the difference. I don’t think there’s anything immoral about Israel developing and possessing WMDs; given the extremely low probability of irresponsible use and the regional conventional arms race that would probably exist in their absence, I consider the Israeli WMD program a legitimate strategic choice. Israel’s failure to acknowledge its WMD arsenal is a closer question, but there are fairly obvious political reasons why it has not done so. Vanunu unilaterally made it more difficult for Israel to maintain one of its key defensive assets, which to my mind is a betrayal.

In answer to Dsquared’s implicit question, any of the left-wing members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (some of whom have in fact debated Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the Knesset floor) would have had clearance, and Vanunu could have gone to them. The chairman of the committee at that time was Abba Eban, and I can’t imagine he would have dismissed Vanunu without a hearing.

As for the accusation of using illegal means, that’s pretty laughable given that Vanunu was illegally kidnapped in Italy!

The state’s illegal action doesn’t excuse Vanunu’s. If he and Jonathan Pollard were to occupy adjacent cells, I wouldn’t shed any tears.

5

Colin 04.21.04 at 11:40 pm

You could argue that he deserves a medal for enhancing Israel’s security

Only you could, Chun. But I’m sure that Israel will be grateful for your advice on how to enhance its security.

6

Chris Bertram 04.22.04 at 12:05 am

Jonathan writes:

given the extremely low probability of irresponsible use…

Given that Vanunu’s actions were not long after the invasion of Lebanon, with all that went with that, perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt over a judgement about how probable irresponsible actions were.

7

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 12:13 am

Given that Vanunu’s actions were not long after the invasion of Lebanon […] perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt over a judgement about how probable irresponsible actions were.

A tendency to engage in irresponsible military adventurism (which Israel certainly did in Lebanon) isn’t the same as a tendency toward irresponsible use of WMDs. The United States, Britain and France (not to mention India and Pakistan) have all engaged in military adventurism after acquiring a WMD arsenal, but very few people consider them WMD threats. In any event, I don’t think that was a matter for Vanunu to determine on his own.

8

Elayne Riggs 04.22.04 at 12:21 am

Very few people consider the US and Israel to be WMD threats? In whose world?

Both countries are in the hands of aggressive madmen at the moment. I wouldn’t put anything past them.

As I wrote in my blog today, I’ve long considered Vanunu a hero for exposing Israel’s little open secret. As a Jew I’m deeply ashamed that a country that started out with such promise has continued to practice such atrocities. But then, at times that’s the way I feel about the US…

9

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 12:32 am

Elayne, are you talking about the same “aggressive madman” who is currently fighting his own party to arrange a withdrawal from Gaza? I’m no fan of Sharon and I agree that he uses excessive force, but he’s hardly so far gone as to start detonating WMDs all over the Middle East. I mean, the Soviets, Indians and Pakistanis never used them, and if they’ve abided by the taboo against using WMDs, then I can’t quite see Israeli nukes as a threat.

10

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 12:39 am

Jonathan’s final remark strikes me as close to racist, I must say. What’s with the incredulity and italics, there? These lesser breeds, etc. haven’t managed to blow themselves up, so what’s the worry about Israel?

11

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 12:40 am

And the only thing Sharon is fighting is a bribery indictment.

12

p. hoolahan 04.22.04 at 12:41 am

Only you could, Chun. But I’m sure that Israel will be grateful for your advice on how to enhance its security.

Colin, isn’t that a bit like the advice that was so freely supplied by National Review columnists to Democrat voters during the primaries?

perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt over a judgement about how probable irresponsible actions were.

Chris, before you nominate Vanunu for the Nobel Peace Prize, try reading his opinions on the existence of Israel as a state (he’s against), on Judaism and Islam (“backward” religions), and so on. I suspect that he’ll soon become a bigger embarrassment to some of his supporters than he was to Israel.

13

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 12:57 am

Jonathan’s final remark strikes me as close to racist, I must say. What’s with the incredulity and italics, there? These lesser breeds, etc. haven’t managed to blow themselves up, so what’s the worry about Israel?

No, any implication about race or “lesser breeds” is purely your projection. The factors that separate Israel from Pakistan, India and the FSU involve political stability, democratic accountability or a combination of the two. Specifically, if a totalitarian and ideologically-driven state (the FSU) or a revanchist, military-dominated power (Pakistan) kept a lid on their WMD arsenals, then it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to believe that Israel is about to blow up the Middle East. But hey, if you want to think I’m being racist, feel free.

14

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 1:01 am

Whatever Vanunu might believe is irrelevant as to whether it was just for Israel to imprison him for 18 years, 11 of which were under conditions defined internationally as torture, for telling the world what it already knew. Furthermore, I find it difficult to credit that Vanunu has advocated the destruction of the state of Israel, though I find it rather easy to credit that is the exact sort of mindless smear to be found in high volume in the blogosphere.

15

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 1:08 am

You left out India, for what I suppose are predictable reasons, but ok. Pakistan’s a “revanchist, military-dominated power?” Actually, it’s the military who controls a revanchist population there for the most part; and, speaking to the more important point, any state, no matter its governmental system, will not use nuclear weapons against any state with the potential to respond. This most certainly includes Israel’s antagonists.

And I think it’s ok that Israel has nuclear weapons. What’s not ok is for them to persecute Vanunu for revealing a secret comparable to me telling the Toronto Star that there’s some heavy shit out in South Dakota.

16

rilkefan 04.22.04 at 1:16 am

chun writes to jonathan, “You left out India, for what I suppose are predictable reasons, but ok.”

I take it that by “ok” you mean, “Sorry I nearly smeared you as a racist”?

17

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 1:26 am

India clearly doesn’t fit into the rubric Jonathan was using to attempt to justify his bewildering earlier statement about how it’s ok for Israel to have nuclear weapons since these other, less civilized, countries have had them without using them.

And since Jonathan made a note of this on his blog, I’d like to say that I don’t think that Jonathan Pollard should still be in prison. From what I know of his case, I think six months with some community service would have been more appropriate.

18

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 1:29 am

You left out India, for what I suppose are predictable reasons, but ok.

You’re right, I shouldn’t have included India. I tend to think of both sides of the India-Pakistan conflict as a combined nuclear threat, but doing so disregards the substantial differences between the Indian and Pakistani political systems. Sloppy thinking on my part.

any state, no matter its governmental system, will not use nuclear weapons against any state with the potential to respond.

Not necessarily so. What makes the India-Pakistan situation so potentially unstable is that neither side has a big enough arsenal to be assured of MAD. A nuclear exchange is potentially survivable, and therefore thinkable, for both countries (which may be why there’s been noticeably more nuclear saber-rattling on that front than from other nuclear powers). If I had to pick a conflict that might potentially go nuclear, it would be that one.

What’s not ok is for them to persecute Vanunu for revealing a secret comparable to me telling the Toronto Star that there’s some heavy shit out in South Dakota.

If Vanunu’s disclosures were only as significant as you telling the Toronto Star that the United States has WMDs, then why did he bother? We both know there was more to it than that. Israel was (and is) in a political situation where it couldn’t publicly acknowledge its WMDs without coming under intense pressure to disarm, and Vanunu’s outing of the Israeli WMD program was intended precisely to create such pressure.

Some quotations from Vanunu can be found here (although he has since qualified them).

19

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 1:34 am

I’d like to say that I don’t think that Jonathan Pollard should still be in prison. From what I know of his case, I think six months with some community service would have been more appropriate.

I tend to think Pollard should rot, but I give you credit for consistency.

20

Phill 04.22.04 at 1:47 am

I don’t believe that intelligence services have any business performing kidnappings in friendly states. Israel is not nearly as bad as the French in this regard. The French intelligence services carried out a murder which by any standards is a terrorist act when they bombed the Rainbow Warrior.

Stupid politics in both cases. War is merely politics by other means.

21

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 1:48 am

Intense pressure from whom? The U.S.? Don’t make me spew. Everyone in the world, I repeat the world, up to and including hunter-gatherer remnants, knew that Israel had nuclear weapons. Anyone who cared to knew that the Dimona reactor was where they were made. Israel just wanted to maintain a legal fiction, which it continues, in this post-Vanunu period, to do, that it was somehow undeclared.

Vanunu’s motivations and psychology are irrelevant. From a PR perspective, Israel’s criminal kidnapping of (and no one cares much about the Italians, true, but they do have laws of their own) and barbaric treatment of Vanunu has only been a disaster.

And if we’re going to talk about instable dyads, the pressure on Israel’s strategic enemies to acquire nuclear weapons is now total. They do this not for offense, as they don’t wish suicide, but for defense.

22

Ray 04.22.04 at 2:04 am

I think it says a good deal about Britain and Israel, respectively, that Britain did not punish the acts of Gun, whereas Israel went to such lengths to punish Vanunu.

23

rilkefan 04.22.04 at 2:14 am

Britain is in rather a different situation than Israel. Actually I can’t think of any good reason for the UK to have a nuclear arsenal.

Iran, Iraq, Libya, Egypt (?) haven’t been under any pressure from Israel’s possession of WMDs – though perhaps from US interests. And I could imagine Iran for example finding nukes useful for other than strictly defensive reasons.

24

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 2:25 am

You know who else was a Rilke fan? Dominus Blicero. Wie, wenn ich schriee, hoerte mich aus den Engel Ordnungen, etc. So those of us not excited by the beauty of total destruction tend to be more leery of nuclear arms.

25

Phill 04.22.04 at 2:27 am

Actually Britain did try to put Gun on trial. The trial was abandonded when it became clear no jury would convict.

What Israel did was to put itself beyond the law, engaging in kidnapping, breaking the law in the UK and in Italy.

Fortunately Israel did not go as far as France did in the case of the Rainbow Warrior incident. There a similar thought process led to the French government ordering what can only be described as an act of state terrorism.

26

Anatoly 04.22.04 at 2:29 am

“Everyone in the world, I repeat the world, up to and including hunter-gatherer remnants, knew that Israel had nuclear weapons.
[…]
And if we’re going to talk about instable dyads, the pressure on Israel’s strategic enemies to acquire nuclear weapons is now total.”

Vanunu’s acts changed nothing. Nothing, I tell you! Everybody knew everything already. Oh wait, no, there’s an extra rhetorical point to score in case they did change something. Let me just completely reverse my position for a second, to score that point, and please pretend you didn’t notice.

27

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 2:35 am

I find it curious that you apparently parse “now” above to mean “post-Vanunu,” when what is obviously meant is “post-1965 or so.” It was well known in the 1967 war that Israel had nuclear arms, as it was much suspected that they may have armed them in 1973 (this last provides the kicker for the aforementioned Tom Clancy, btw).

28

John Isbell 04.22.04 at 4:57 am

“Wer, wenn ich schriee, hoerte mich aus der Engel Ordnungen…”
First Duineser Elegie.

There’s a suggestion upthread that to be a good Jew you have to support Israel’s existence. This will be news to more than a few devout Jews in the diaspora, and some in Israel. I remember a full-page ad in the NYT about this, and a conversation with a Lubavitcher rabbi.

29

Seth Edenbaum 04.22.04 at 5:08 am

What’s the line? “Given the choice of betraying my country or my friend, I hope I’d have the guts to betray my friend”
What the fuck is immoral in principle, with treason?!
If you use relativism as a guide, than the USA and the USSR are equivalent. If you don’t, than ‘treason’ as such is irrelevant

30

rilkefan 04.22.04 at 5:59 am

It’s

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hoerte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen?

and really it has zip to do with this discussion.

31

rilkefan 04.22.04 at 6:00 am

It’s

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hoerte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen?

and really it has zip to do with this discussion.

32

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 6:16 am

That’s what an imperfect memory and lack of krautish grammar will do for you, but the point about Rilke’s embrace of destructive transformation, particularly as characterized in GR, and the phallus-worship of nuclear weapons is exactingly relevant to this discussion, I find.

33

dsquared 04.22.04 at 7:02 am

A tendency to engage in irresponsible military adventurism (which Israel certainly did in Lebanon) isn’t the same as a tendency toward irresponsible use of WMDs.

Tell the truth, Jonathan; did you make this argument in favour of that other “adventurer” of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein?

34

rilkefan 04.22.04 at 7:23 am

“Rilke’s embrace of destructive transformation”

Rilke was maybe interested in transcendence (though I’d put seeing and understanding first), but as far as I know what some deranged character says about him in some novel and $3 will get you a latte.

Anyway, to my mind the bomb was built out of fear (though not unrational fear) and should now be unbuilt. Gotta go look for Rilke poems about ponies…

35

Joshua W. Burton 04.22.04 at 8:42 am

Dsquared writes, to Jonathan’s remarks on Israeli WMDs:

_Tell the truth, Jonathan; did you make this argument in favour of that other “adventurer” of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein?_

Let’s turn this around, and aim it back at Vanunu for a moment. _If_ in fact there is a moral equivalence, or a pragmatic equivalence of risk, between Israeli and Iraqi nukes, and _if_ “principled nuclear whistleblower” comes nearer to describing Vanunu than “traitor”, then one would have expected Vanunu to join with the 99% of Israeli citizens, including at least two Arab Knesset members, who publicly applauded Israel’s illegal but prudent attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981.

However (Jerusalem Post lead editorial yesterday) it turns out that Vanunu, exercising student freedom of expression at Hebrew University which tellingly did not preclude his later security clearance, publicly joined with Rakah (mainly Arab communist fraction) protesters to speak out _against_ the preemptive destruction of Saddam’s WMD program. Therefore, _either_

(1) Vanunu believed that the cases are morally or pragmatically inequivalent, and that Iraq can better be trusted with secret nukes than his own country, _or_

(2) Vanunu’s aim was not regional arms control nor the rule of international law (Iraq was signatory to NPT, by the way), but rather deliberate harm to his own country’s strategic interests — in other words, treason.

I think the case for moral inequivalence in Iraq’s favor is an interesting one, and would like to see someone attempt to make it here. A good starting point would be to find an Iraqi who betrayed Saddam’s strategic trust in the same timeframe as Vanunu, was fairly convicted in a trial with counsel, and, after serving a sentence comparable to Vanunu’s, was set free (and, after one more year of probation, permitted to leave Iraq and tell all to the BBC, as Vanunu will be free to leave Israel next year). From this baseline, it would then be up to the devil’s advocate to show that the Ba’ath democracy was _more_ to be trusted with Osirak than Peres was with Dimona.

36

BP 04.22.04 at 8:56 am

“I think the case for moral inequivalence in Iraq’s favor is an interesting one, and would like to see someone attempt to make it here.”

That’s a fairly pointless exercise you got going there. You might as well try and make the case for moral inequivalence between the US and Pakistan based on the number of civilians either side has nuked.

37

raj 04.22.04 at 12:09 pm

>>>As for the accusation of using illegal means, that’s pretty laughable given that Vanunu was illegally kidnapped in Italy!

Kidnapping of people in foreign countries is hardly unknown to Israel. Recall how Israel got Adolph Eichman in 1960.

38

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 1:39 pm

Tell the truth, Jonathan; did you make this argument in favour of that other “adventurer” of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein?

Please reread my comment about the difference between totalitarian, ideologically-driven states and politically stable democracies. In any event, I never bought the alleged WMDs as a reason to go to war against Saddam.

39

Joshua W. Burton 04.22.04 at 2:16 pm

_Kidnapping of people in foreign countries is hardly unknown to Israel. Recall how Israel got Adolph Eichman in 1960._

Or how the US got Goering in 1945, or Noriega in 1989. Of course, those “kidnappings” involved considerable loss of life to innocent bystanders, unlike the Eichmann and Vanunu cases.

In general, Anglo-Saxon law (out of which tradition comes Israeli law, by way of the Mandate) is ponderously uninterested in _how_ the plaintiff comes to be in the jurisdiction where he is arraigned. This puts the capture of fugitives on foreign soil into the realm of an etiquette violation between states, rather than a life-and-liberty crime against the fugitive. Dura lex, sed lex.

40

Joshua W. Burton 04.22.04 at 2:36 pm

“I think the case for moral inequivalence in Iraq’s favor is an interesting one, and would like to see someone attempt to make it here. A good starting point would be to find an Iraqi who betrayed Saddam’s strategic trust…”

_That’s a fairly pointless exercise you got going there. You might as well try and make the case for moral inequivalence between the US and Pakistan based on the number of civilians either side has nuked._

Well, alternatively, you could look for an Israeli who, like Saddam’s sons-in-law, betrayed his country, returned home under promise of amnesty, and was killed by Israel without legal formality.

Or, in a pinch, you could admit the obvious: that Israel by its very conduct with Vanunu has proved itself to be far more restrained by the norms of law than Saddam’s Iraq, and therefore that Vanunu’s strong support for the Iraqi WMD program, coupled with his willingness to betray a secrecy oath he voluntarily took with respect to the alleged Israeli program, makes him an enemy-by-choice of his own state, rather than a defender of (nonexistent*) legal principle.

(*Israel, of course, is not bound by the NPT, and, as a nuclear state prior to 1970, might fairly seek to join NPT as a sixth “have” nation, rather than a have-not. So the Dimona program, unlike Osirak, does not violate any treaty commitment.)

41

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 2:38 pm

Vanunu, exercising student freedom of expression at Hebrew University which tellingly did not preclude his later security clearance, publicly joined with Rakah (mainly Arab communist fraction) protesters to speak out against the preemptive destruction of Saddam’s WMD program. Therefore, either

(1) Vanunu believed that the cases are morally or pragmatically inequivalent, and that Iraq can better be trusted with secret nukes than his own country, or

(2) Vanunu’s aim was not regional arms control nor the rule of international law (Iraq was signatory to NPT, by the way), but rather deliberate harm to his own country’s strategic interests — in other words, treason.

To be fair, there are at least two other possibilities:

(3) Vanunu’s views on nuclear weapons changed between 1981 and 1986; or

(4) he disapproved of Iraq’s nuclear program but also of unilateral military action to end that program.

I would like to see someone here try to make the case for moral inequivalence in Iraq’s favor, though.

42

BP 04.22.04 at 3:00 pm

“Well, alternatively, you could look for an Israeli who, like Saddam’s sons-in-law, betrayed his country, returned home under promise of amnesty, and was killed by Israel without legal formality.”

That’s kind of tangential to the point I was making, namely that attempting to draw moral (in)equivalence relationships purely on the basis of one or two isolated data points, is an exercise in futility. That it works in your favor vis-a-vis Israel/Iraq doesn’tmean it won’t work against you vis-a-vis the US/Pakistan.

Besides which you’ve chosen an especially inapt analogy, as extrajudicial killings of enemies of the State are daily bread-and-butter for the IDF.

43

Carlos 04.22.04 at 3:05 pm

I see that Howard Treesong here has _several_ hot-button issues.

I am an unpleasant man, Chun; and I know Jonathan personally. There ain’t a racist bone in his body. But I understand why you’re an anonymous coward. Be glad that you don’t know me.

44

Antoni Jaume 04.22.04 at 3:09 pm

From what I’ve read on paper some years ago, the first nuclear reactor of Israel was built on French technology, in an early stage of development, which did not difficult its use for military purposes. If my memory don’t fails me, this business was done as part of a “Atoms for Peace”, or something akin, so it was expected that Israel would not try to divert the original purpose toward the building of nuclear weapons. …

When the French sold Osirak, they delivered a design that would not be useful to do nuclear bombs.

DSW

45

armando 04.22.04 at 3:30 pm

As far as I understand it establishing moral inequivalence, saying that party A is better than party B, allows you to deflect any criticism and excuse any wrong doing of party A. Because party B is worse.

In fact, it is a lot easier than that, because questioning whether that B *is* actually worse than A by recourse to evidence is taken to be a sure sign of moral degeneracy. Rather, we or our allies are the good guys because everyone knows that, and *they* are the bad guys.

So it comes down to saying that we, or our allies, are prefectly entitled to break the law and act as we want, but it is outrageous for anyone we don’t like to do likewise. To question this is sheer madness. Thats why Mother Teresa can never have done anything wrong, because Hitler was far, far worse.

Its a pretty convenient thing, that moral equivalence.

46

Jagdish Gundara 04.22.04 at 3:30 pm

I suspect that he’ll soon become a bigger embarrassment to some of his supporters than he was to Israel.

Among his principal supporters is, apparently, the BBC, who have rented him an apartment in the “ultra-expensive Andromeda Hill complex”. I thought only the London Sunday papers went in for that sort of “journalism”?

47

Jonathan Edelstein 04.22.04 at 4:25 pm

Tell the truth, Jonathan; did you make this argument in favour of that other “adventurer” of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein?

Please reread my comment about the difference between totalitarian, ideologically-driven states and politically stable democracies.

Not to mention that Saddam has actually used WMDs (of the chemical variety), so his presumptive willingness to do so is greater than, say, that of a nation that has had them for more than 30 years but didn’t use them even when invaded.

48

Chris Bertram 04.22.04 at 4:31 pm

Chris, before you nominate Vanunu for the Nobel Peace Prize, try reading his opinions on the existence of Israel as a state (he’s against), on Judaism and Islam (“backward” religions), and so on. I suspect that he’ll soon become a bigger embarrassment to some of his supporters than he was to Israel.

Why, exactly, should the entitlement of individuals to be justly treated by states be conditional on them having the right opinions or conducting themselves in non-embarrassing ways?

49

p. hoolahan 04.22.04 at 5:29 pm

Why, exactly, should the entitlement of individuals to be justly treated by states be conditional on them having the right opinions or conducting themselves in non-embarrassing ways?

Chris, as far as I know, Vanunu received a fair trial under a judicial system that is renowned for its independence. If you have evidence to the contrary, kindly share it with us or with his lawyers.

The current restrictions imposed on Vanunu also seem reasonable (are you suggesting that they are illegal? on what basis?), especially in light of his intention to renounce his Israeli citizenship at the earliest opportunity and spill whatever beans he may still have left.

All in all I find it hard to see how Vanunu’s trial and sentence (even his abduction) make him a martyr to any sort of cause save a very simplistic sort of “Tsk, Tsk, Israel” campaign. Much as some people will try, the Vanunu case is unlikely to earn a place alongside Sacco & Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs or–to pick another case where no excutions were involved–the Birmingham Six, in the annals of miscarriages of justice.

50

Chris Bertram 04.22.04 at 5:50 pm

Well here are two instances of injustice to start with:

(1) His kidnap in Italy in violation of Italian law.
(2) The disproportionate punishments inflicted upon him.

They seem reasonable points to make irrespective of whether his trial met criteria for procedural fairness and aren’t contingent on granting him any kind of martyr status.

51

chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 7:06 pm

Carlos, please email me so we can on meet on the playground after school, though if you would like to post some here about how large, powerful, fit, and well-armed you are, please don’t let me stop you. It’s my favorite blog-genre.

Edelstein’s comment, as originally stated, lent itself to being interpreted as being about the ethnic inferiority of the mentioned states. I doubted he intended this, which is why I pointed it out. His subsequent clarification, that he forgot that India was as much of a democracy as Israel, and that he believes, wrongly, that political authoritarianism and, not so wrongly, unrest and regional instability, might lead to an increased chance of use of nuclear weapons is unconvicing to me analytically, but not a lesser breeds argument.

Another point: if I intended with all my heart to destroy the Evil Empire by selling my fuzzy polaroids of the South Dakotan silos to the Toronto Star, would I have committed treason?

Israel has had nuclear weapons since the 1960s. Everyone knows this. No one didn’t know it before Vanunu’s revelations. Israel still hasn’t declared them. Seymour Hersh is probably not going to be kidnapped and put in solitary confinement (torture, by the way) for more than a decade for publishing far more about the Israeli nuclear program than Vanunu revealed.

52

Ikram 04.22.04 at 7:10 pm

Re: Traitors versus whistleblowers.

I think its fair to look at the motivation of the indiscreet government employeee to determine which category (traitor, whistleblower) to put them in.

If citizens (and maybe gvt employees even moreso) have to have in mind the best interests of their own country, then a indiscreet gvt employee based on whether they have the best interests on their country at heart.

It may be that Vanunu made his revelation knowing that it would not result in any increased pressure for Isael to disarm (and, in fact, it hasn’t). Or maybe he thought it would result in pressure, but that a non-nuclear Israel would be a better Israel.

Still, neither of these views would be mainstream positions, which marks them as different from Gunn or Ellsburg’s position (but the same as Pollard). Me, I don’t dislike what Vanunu did, but I do think he is a traitor.

53

p. hoolahan 04.22.04 at 7:23 pm

disproportionate

Disproportionate to what?

As I hinted above, Chris, I suspect your whole argument here is disingenuous. This isn’t about injustice at all (except on a geopolitical level), is it? How can it be? Security issues in Israel are–understandably–always paramount. It has been fighting for its survival since 1948. Now you may not care for its existence, but if you did (say you were Shimon Peres, whose brainchild Dimona was), you would hardly be likely to take lightly the publication of photos from inside the country’s secret nuclear reactor (not to mention that the divulgence of such information also compromised the country’s security on a political level). You would immediately instruct your intelligence people to find out what information Vanunu might have and how to retrieve it. Yes, I know, we are all shocked, shocked that spies often act in violation of other countries’ laws. Presumably Vanunu’s lawyers raised this issue and Israeli courts dismissed it.

Were there elements of “teaching him a lesson” and “sending a message to others” in Israel’s prosecution of Vanunu? I imagine there was. Had he expressed some sentiment along the lines of “OK, I made my point, I just wanted to start a public debate”, I suspect Israeli prosecutors would have settled for a reduced sentence. But Vanunu made it clear right from the start that his goal was to subvert the Israeli nuclear program, if not the entire state. There were suggestions early on that he had sold the photos for money, but the Sunday Times has always denied paying Vanunu a penny, and Vanunu himself has confirmed it. So his actions were patently political, and not just an innocent manifestation of the “loyal political opposition”.

Again, you may be opposed to Israel’s nuclear program (as many Israelis are), and you may be opposed to Israel itself (as some Israelis are, as well), but let’s not kid ourselves that the “outrage” over Vanunu has anything to do with “injustice”.

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chun the unavoidable 04.22.04 at 7:38 pm

Hoolhan endorses the moral superiority of Ames and Hansen, who wittingly had people killed for cash and diamonds, to Vanunu, and the stars shine throughout the heavens.

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Chris Bertram 04.22.04 at 8:29 pm

Disproportionate to what?

asks Mr Hoolihan disingenously.

Well, disproportionate to the offence, in the same way that hanging people for sheep stealing in 18th century England was disproportionate.

Or, if you prefer, disproportionate compared to the punishment meted out for other crimes by the same state at around the same time. So, for example these case from Robert Fisk’s _Pity the Nation_ about the invasion of Lebanon:

bq. Near a south Lebanese village occupied by Israeli troops, Lieutenant Daniel Pinto, the acting commander of an Israeli infantry company, strangled four Lebanese peasants whose bodies, tied hand and foot, were later found in a well. Another Israeli officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Arye Sadeh, ordered the execution of one of his battalion’s prisoners during the first days of the advance into Lebanon. Pinto was court-martialled for his atrocity but the Israeli chief of staff, General Rafael Eitan, reduced the sentence to two years and then ordered Pinto’s release. Sadeh received a two and a half years’ imprisonment and reduction in rank to major, a sentence that was later reduced by an appeals court to five years and reduction to private. Eitan restored the original sentence. (PtN pp131-2)

Vanunu served eighteen years.

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Jagdish Gundara 04.22.04 at 9:31 pm

Chris, I deplore many of Israel’s policies and some of its behaviour in the Occupied Territories (as I did its presence in Lebanon), but the issue here isn’t the conduct of soldiers at war, and the disingenuousness here is not Hoolahan’s. The fair comparison is between Vanunu’s actions and those of Pollard and other (let’s not mince words) traitors and one can hardly begrudge Israel for being tough on anyone it considers a threat to its security. Vanunu is no hero and no martyr. You may not like Israel but your outrage here is — well, yes — disproportionate.

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jam 04.22.04 at 10:00 pm

Chris,

You asked why there had been little comment. Part of the answer is that Vanunu is still in danger. If sufficiently provoked (and none of us knows what constitutes “sufficiently”) the Israeli Government can shove him back inside. This chills comment.

Vanunu’s punishment was pour encourager les autres and it has worked. It has been made excessively clear to other Israelis who have knowledge of the nuclear program that it would be unwise to reveal what they know, and that they can be reached, wherever they run to.

I agree that the Vanunu case was bad PR, but I suspect the authorities didn’t understand that at the time. Eichmann had been kidnapped to stand trial in Israel and overall that had been good PR. This is not the first time acquiescence when a government does bad things to a person of whom one disapproves has permitted government to do the same bad things to a person of whom one approves.

And governments are irrational about nukes. The Rosenberg case; though the stakes were lower, the Oppenheimer hearings; the Rainbow Warrior incident; Vanunu: all government overreactions, all examples of government misbehavour, all over nukes.

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p. hoolahan 04.22.04 at 10:18 pm

You may not like Israel but your outrage here is — well, yes — disproportionate.

Jagdish, may I borrow–and rework–your words?

It seems evident to me that Chris’ outrage is not disproportionate at all… to his dislike of Israel.

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Chris Bertram 04.22.04 at 10:39 pm

Jadish,

As I understand it Pollard sold classified material to a foreign state. If there’s a clear case of treachery then that is it. Vanunu revealed “secrets” that weren’t secret to a newspaper and thereby embarrassed his government. Rather different I would have thought.

Hoolihan:

It seems evident to me that Chris’ outrage is not disproportionate at all… to his dislike of Israel.

You have no basis for such a statement. I neither like nor dislike Israel, and certainly I defend its right to continue to exist. I also think that when Israeli policies are unjust then they merit criticism, don’t you?

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Joshua W. Burton 04.22.04 at 10:45 pm

BP writes:

_That’s kind of tangential to the point I was making, namely that attempting to draw moral (in)equivalence relationships purely on the basis of one or two isolated data points, is an exercise in futility._

Well, then, let’s get away from anecdote and pose the problem more broadly. What general features of Saddam’s regime and of Israel’s parliamentary system would lead a fair-minded observer, not predisposed to Israel’s harm, to conclude that the former can be trusted with secret treaty-violating nukes, while the latter’s nuclear program must be exposed to the world?

_Besides which you’ve chosen an especially inapt analogy, as extrajudicial killings of enemies of the State are daily bread-and-butter for the IDF._

If you mean Bus 300 twenty years ago, remember that a government nearly fell, and the implicated Shin Bet commander was stripped by an Israeli court of both immunity and anonymity, and did fairly serious prison time. If you mean (as you seem to with the “daily” qualifier) targeted killings _on the field of battle_ (which, alas, includes MOUT), you are blurring a line between these and killings in custody. That’s not quite equivalent to falling all the way back to “war is murder”, but the other lines on that slope are far less clearly demarcated.

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p. hoolahan 04.22.04 at 11:22 pm

You have no basis for such a statement. I neither like nor dislike Israel, and certainly I defend its right to continue to exist. I also think that when Israeli policies are unjust then they merit criticism, don’t you?

Chris, I’m already late for a dinner appointment, so I’ll reply briefly, and in spirit.

I have two Israeli partners in my (mathematical) research, one of whom thinks I’m too hard on the Israeli government and the other too easy. Unlike you I rather like Israel (I’ve visited twice, including an extended excursion to Bir Zeit) and I apologize if the tone of my replies became progressively more critical, to the point of snarkiness. It’s just that after an accidental visit to David Irving’s site–in which Vanunu is predictably beatified–I’ve come to dislike the guy (both, of course) intensely. He seems oily and deceitful and hardly worth the waste of bytes. I’m sorry if you feel I’ve misjudged your motives.

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Jagdish Gundara 04.23.04 at 4:55 am

As I understand it Pollard sold classified material to a foreign state. If there’s a clear case of treachery then that is it. Vanunu revealed “secrets” that weren’t secret to a newspaper and thereby embarrassed his government. Rather different I would have thought.

On the other hand, Chris, Pollard’s secrets were given to a friendly state while Vanunu’s secrets were passed to someone who was clearly hostile to Israel (or whose exposé, at the very least, was compromising to Israeli security. There were reports that Vanunu had offered his material to two foreign embassies in Canberra, but these reports were never confirmed.)

Furthermore, Vanunu’s secrets were not simply limited to a confirmation that Israel had nuclear weapons — which everyone knew — but included detailed layouts of the Dimona reactor, where the various controls were situated, and so on. Israel reportedly was forced to undertake a general reorganization of Dimona and to move some of its facilities to an entirely new site.

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chun the unavoidable 04.23.04 at 5:12 am

Yes, the Times is a sworn enemy of Israel. I’d really like to hear someone make a case about how this compromised Israel’s security, as opposed to compromising Israel’s already risible “nuclear ambiguity.”

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jagdish gundara 04.23.04 at 5:25 am

One further point, Chris. To the best of my knowledge, an Italian government inquiry into the Vanunu case could find no clear violation of Italian laws. The EU parliament passed a resolution that it did but EU resolutions of that type are popularity contests similar to what gets voted on in the UN General Assembly. That’s not to say that Vanunu wasn’t actually abducted in Italy, merely that no court (that I know of; I am ready to stand corrected) has ruled what happened illegal.

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Jagdish Gundara 04.23.04 at 5:54 am

Chun,

I’m not familiar with your methods of arguing; do you always resort to gross distortions?

I said: “…someone who was clearly hostile to Israel… or whose exposé, at the very least, was compromising to Israeli security…”

How does that become: “…the Times is a sworn enemy of Israel”?

In May 1990, rejecting Vanunu’s last appeal, the Israeli supreme court upheld his conviction for the “collection and delivery of secret information with the intent to impair the security of the state, and acts calculated to assist an enemy in war against Israel.”

But, of course, you are already on record as arguing that Vanunu “deserves a medal for enhancing Israel’s security”…!

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chun the unavoidable 04.23.04 at 7:13 am

I admire your faith in courts. You don’t deny that Israel acted in violation of Italian law, but since there was insufficient evidence to prove it, it was ok.

Who won the war between the Times and Israel, btw? There were reports that Arcturus turned into Pacman and chomped the hell out of a pink comet last night, but they came from recreational mycologists and were never confirmed.

It’s obvious bullshit to say that Vanunu’s information disambiguated Israel’s nuclear stance, since, as we’ve long discussed here, any interested entity on Earth knew about their nuclear program beforehand, but if there were some fanatic regime, let’s say Pakistan, following the logic introduced above, ready to launch nuclear weapons against Israel, then maybe the revelations in this news story might have stayed their fingers. Since, following these assumptions, a declared nuclear program is always a stronger deterrent than an “ambiguous” one, Vanunu was arguably the greatest force for Israeli security in the nation’s history.

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BP 04.23.04 at 7:27 am

“f you mean (as you seem to with the “daily” qualifier) targeted killings on the field of battle (which, alas, includes MOUT), you are blurring a line between these and killings in custody. “

Hmm. Wheelchairs and mosques. You have a pretty generous definition of “field of battle”. Considering that Iraq and the US have been at loggerheads since 1991, I guess Saddam had even better grounds to define all of Iraq as a “field of battle”. Technically, he wouldn’t even have been wrong.

Nope, I’m afraid the inaptness of your analogy stands.

As for the broader question via-a-vis Saddam’s Iraq, and Israel, I do think Israel was (and is) a much more pleasant place to live in for most Israelis, than Iraq was (and still is) for most Iraqis. Furthermore, I think that Saddam’s treatment of his enemies was harsher than Israel’s, especially in the 80s and early 90s.

But as far as morailty goes, I also think that the reasonably pluriform nature of Israeli democracy has so far succeeded from allowing Israeli leadership to sink below the level of Saddam, because harsh genocidal tendencies are very evidently present in a significant segment of Israel society. And when I compare these people to Saddam, I see no difference, nor do I think they will behave any better given power and control of nukes.

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Jagdish Gundara 04.23.04 at 1:46 pm

You don’t deny that Israel acted in violation of Italian law…

In fact it was the Italian government commission that concluded there was no violation of Italian law, but, of course, they neglected to call you as a witness…

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Conrad Barwa 04.23.04 at 2:55 pm

Just a couple of brief points I think should be mentioned. It is worthwhile comparing the nuclear WMD issue in countries that have decided to implement such programmes, the comparison of Israel, Pakistan, India and NK are quite justified in this regard. I can understand the argument that democratic states which have a reasonable level of political stability don’t pose that much of a risk in using these weapons. I think this is a reasonable and well established position, and I can’t see anything ‘racist’ about it. It is however not a view that I subscribe to and one that rests on a problematic theory of deterrence; always worthwhile to remember that the sole use of nuclear weapons has been by a democratic state, the problem as I see it is that during wartime normal decision-making procedures are short-circuited and the gap for consideration shortened which can lead to a large amount of discretionary power on whether to use these weapons or not. In this sense, I don’t think the distance between non-democratic and democratic states in decision-making on this issue is all that large – after all a fair number of nuclear states are not democracies and have managed to keep their fingers off the nuclear trigger. I think excessive attention towards internal politics can obscure the degree to which the policymakers are influenced by the external strategic environment in devising their responses – this is I would argue for those interested in nuclear confrontations a much more important variable. Frex to take Israel and Pakistan when these countries started their nuclear programmes both were faced with opponents/group of opponents that could pose a serious threat by virtue of greater access to resources, numbers and size and so acquiring a nuclear capability made some sense. They were also to some extent revisionist powers that sought to improve their balance of strength vis-à-vis other states in the region and so were more driven to engage in proliferation and swapping of technology. For Israel this was on a limited scale, though collaborating with apartheid South Africa was not in my view a wise or particularly sensible decision and doesn’t say much for Israeli concerns over proliferation but Pakistan has been by far the more serious problem here. Signing the NPT for Israel won’t be a problem now because it doesn’t need to indulge in any proliferation and neither does it make sense for it to do so from a strategic point of view; for Pakistan the situation is somewhat different.

Re: India and the nuclear issue, this is something that has led to substantial interest amongst some theorists since while India didn’t follow a policy of nuclear ambiguity, there certainly was a lot of inconsistency and dissembling going on here. Nuclear capability was acquired well before the Pokhran II tests, so political scientists have had a lot of fun investigating why exactly there was such a delay. In anycase, I don’t think there are many lessons to be learned from the Indian case for other countries, simply because its internal politics don’t map easily onto that of most other potential weapon states and its nuclear policy has not always been very coherent or well planned. It is undeniable though that the Indo-Pak confrontation is probably the most sensitive nuclear hotspot in the current global scene and neither state has been particularly responsible about nuclear sabre-rattling. In the Pakistani case though, the nuclear control and command have always remained in the hands of the military, as Sharif found out when during his last term as PM; he was informed by the Americans that the Pakistani military had armed and moved nuclear missiles in the then stand-off with India. The question then revolves around the issue of whether the military in question is a reliable enough institution to maintain a restrained nuclear capability; one can debate this but in my view I don’t see much difference between a military hand on the button in Pakistan and a civilian one in India. The temptations to use them rest not on the internal basis of the regime but on the relative strategic positions of the two states involved.

Re Pollard etc. I am simply amazed by some of the things being said here. There seems to be a persistent confusion over how states regard espionage and fruitless questions of whether one ‘likes’ a particular state or not or that somehow spying is not serious as long as secrets are passed onto ‘friendly’ countries. This is a laughable and ridiculous view of how international relations works and of state-agency in such a context; there is no such thing as a ‘friendly’ state when it comes to issues like nuclearisation or high-level arms deals; and states don’t have friends they have interests (however articulated) which they seek to defend. Absolutely no state will tolerate espionage –if it is able to, that passes on what it sees as sensitive secrets to other third party countries; there is also a tendency here to carried away with the rhetoric of some close alliances such as the US-Israel relationship, while this is a strong alliance it doesn’t mean that either state will hesitate to violate the interests of the other if it is deemed necessary. Any doubts over this can be seen in the forced passivity of the latter during the 1991 Gulf War when it had to passively sit and act as target practise for Iraqi missiles without any retaliation, or the willingness of Israel to selectively ‘leak’ high-level military technology that was meant to be restricted to it alone during arms transfers from the US. The absolute reluctance of existing nuclear weapons states to allow any overt move for proliferation by even close allies, indicates how states prefer to keep monopolies over advanced weaponry as far as possible, overriding even ideological affinities.

I have to also say that I find Pollard a difficult case to compare with Vanunu; I certainly don’t regard the latter, as a hero but I don’t think he is a traitor either. The former basically overrode his loyalty both as a citizen and as a naval intelligence officer to the state he was sworn to serve to another state; in other words he was not in the wrong career but serving the wrong state. Justifying or condoning his actions, lays people open to the charge of dual loyalties; I am not personally in favour of reductive self-identifications but when it comes to state clashes in a hostile and competitive international arena one can’t really serve two masters. Even amongst allies the interests of the state will never coincide completely and will many times clash; it is not up to the individual conscience to choose selectively when to come down on what side if one is working in an area as sensitive as intelligence; this is not a matter of morality but simply of loyalty and these choices need to be made before one embarks on such a career not during it. I don’t have the same problem with individuals like Vanunu, I don’t think they necessarily are heroic and obviously they are in many cases motivated by ideological considerations which will make them hostile to what their states are doing but they aren’t privileging loyalty to another state over to the one they have served or are currently a part of. This is not to say that I agree with them or the way they go about it but to compare them to traitors who basically trade their current loyalties towards one state for another is mind boggling.

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Chris Bertram 04.24.04 at 12:33 pm

In fact it was the Italian government commission that concluded there was no violation of Italian law, but, of course, they neglected to call you as a witness…

In fact,thy concluded no such thing. They declined to pursue the matter due to “lack of evidence”, which was a simply a diplomatic way of not pursuing a dispute with Israel.

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Jagdish Gundara 04.24.04 at 4:56 pm

Yes, you’re right Chris. I relied on a secondhand source which was ambiguous and my thirdhand assertion made it seem conclusive.

But the more I read about Vanunu the less I sympathize with him. He apparently had considerable liberty to communicate with friends and supporters despite what is described as long stretches of solitary confinement, and some of statements are quite controversial if they aren’t just self-promotional.

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Joshua W. Burton 04.25.04 at 4:05 pm

_Hmm. Wheelchairs and mosques. You have a pretty generous definition of “field of battle”._

“Not disabled, differently able.”

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