Vanunu Boycotts Knesset Panel Session After Travel Restrictions Are Extended

Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu decided to boycott a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee session yesterday, where he had been scheduled to speak about restrictions imposed on him since his release from prison.

The decision came just hours after Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz announced that the ban on Vanunu's leaving the country, imposed due to concerns he could harm national security, would be extended by a year.

MK Zahava Gal-On (Yahad) had asked Pines-Paz to cancel the order preventing Vanunu from getting a passport.

"He collected enormous amounts of information, a large part of which is still relevant, I'm sorry to say ... [and] he says `the moment that I can, I will publish it,' Pines-Paz said. "When a man says that he will harm national security, where does that leave us?... [This is] a preventive step and we have no choice but to use it."

Vanunu was released from prison last April after serving an 18-year sentence for revealing Israel's nuclear secrets to a British newspaper.

MK Issam Makhoul (Hadash) called for the meeting to be canceled, but it proceeded without Vanunu. Among those in attendance were Vanunu's adoptive parents, Nick and Mary Eoloff, who came specially from the U.S., Vanunu supporter and 1976 Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Ireland, journalist Uri Avneri, and chief legal counsel of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, Dan Yakir.

Makhoul said Vanunu did not wish to participate in a "game that was rigged against him." The MK told those present there is no justification for the restrictions given that Vanunu had spent 18 years in prison. He added that Pines-Paz's decision to extend the restrictions on the same day the panel was scheduled to meet on the matter showed that the committee had been duped.

"I believe in an open-door policy," committee chairman MK Michael Eitan said Monday. "I'm prepared to extend respect to a man convicted of spying, just as I respect someone who has received the Israel Security Prize. I don't believe in shutting people's mouths. Vanunu served his sentence, and has a right to present his position."