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How is it that Mordechai Vanunu is regarded as an admired hero in Western Europe, and in Israel he is slandered, cursed and despised by all? And if some public debate has risen around him - even though no significant part of the public regards him as a hero, as might have been expected from a genuine left - why is it that only a screaming, uniform chorus opposes the international peace activists and the handful of Israelis trying to stop the separation fence with their bodies: both literally and figuratively, lying along the fence on its current route in an effort that many in the world consider justified? Why isn't an alternative voice of appreciation being heard for these opponents of the regime, these dissidents?

The definition "dissidents" is, indeed, appropriate for them. Vanunu and the demonstrators against the fence, like the radical leftists of yore - Matzpen, Olam Hazeh, and a few other minuscule groups - oppose the activities that form the basis of the regime in Israel. In the absence of a true alternative, they not only oppose the government, they oppose the regime.

No real debate

In Israel, where most of the main issues on the agenda have never been the subject of real debate, where one view prevails on issues from nuclear weapons to the fence, from right of return to Jewish state, there's no way for anyone with an opposing view to draw attention to their arguments, unless they take drastic action. Nobody would have taken Vanunu seriously if he had not published what he did in the Sunday Times. Nobody would know there is a serious moral issue at stake with the fence, if not for the daily demonstrations its opponents conduct in the territories.

The regime in Israel has declared war on these people, just as certain regimes overseas fight their opponents. The actions of the regime opponents are declared illegal, and they are punished with the full force of the law: jailed in solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time and, upon their release, restricted with draconian conditions. Vanunu was sent to prison for a horrifying length of time, totally out of proportion to his actions, and the state uses military forces that wound and kill the fence's opponents, without justification.

Along with the admiration felt worldwide for regime opponents who have been declared illegal by the regimes they are trying to fight, they also win sympathy from at least some parts of their own country's public. But our regime opponents find no such local support in their fight for justice in society. Burmese (Mynamar) dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is considered a lawbreaker by the government in her country. But in her country, and even in Israel, she is considered a hero. True, there is a repressive dictatorship in Burma, but isn't the occupation the Anarchists Against the Fence are fighting also a dictatorship for the Palestinians who are subject to it?

The Israeli press enlisted almost uniformly for the campaign of libel against Vanunu - the same kind of campaign that takes place here against anyone the defense establishment chooses to harm. From Marcus Klingberg to Elhanan Tannenbaum, the media largely serves the security forces. In Vanunu's case it does so by ridiculing him. It began with the "revelation" in Yedioth Ahronoth that years ago he was a nude model in a drawing course and continues with the nasty choice of his saying, "they promised to fix me up with a female admirer," as the main headline in Maariv. Thus, a well-orchestrated campaign of innuendo and slander builds, meant to eliminate any chance that anyone will listen to what he says. After all, Yair Lapid, that well-known authority on nuclear strategy and democracy, has already said he "talks atomic nonsense" and called him crazy. Very few ask if the demand to open Dimona to international inspections is really "atomic nonsense." To the extent that any debate takes place here, it is about the efficacy of the steps taken against him when he was released. Very few discuss the legal and moral implications of those steps.

The nearly total enlistment in the service of the security forces, and even more so the wall-to-wall uniformity of the response, raises most worrisome questions about the nature of Israeli society and its regime, and is far more dangerous for the future of the country, than any revelation Vanunu might have had. The lack of interest shown in Israeli society to the daily shooting and casualties among the demonstrators against the fence should also disturb the sleep of those who care about the survival of Israeli democracy.

Vanunu and the fence opponents, just like the Matzpen activists in their day, are considered lepers, pariahs in society. Matzpen activists were suspected of treason and crimes against the security of the state, which spied on them. Traitors in the eyes of the state, nobody listened to them. Years later, it turns out they were right - their fundamental demand for two states for two peoples is now considered the consensus, but the methods of operation against our dissidents remain the same.

Vanunu may be less correct than Matzpen, and his personality might be problematic, but why not listen to him for a minute after he finished his heavy prison sentence?

Why not ask ourselves some tough questions instead of tarring and feathering him and then, upon a signal given from on high, everyone together stoning him in the city square, as if it is a ritual for excommunication in a society that lacks any confidence in the justice of its course.