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What's the deal? For the past few weeks, the country has been in an uproar over the return to Israel from captivity of an Israeli citizen, Elhanan Tennenbaum, who got into a mess of some kind in Lebanon. A marginal affair has become a mega-event that has almost toppled the prime minister.

Members of the opposition, such as Labor MKs Dalia Itzik, Haim Ramon and Ophir Pines-Paz, who did not speak out against far more horrific events, like the manifestations of the occupation or other societal ills, have suddenly become more militant and self-righteous than they ever were. Suddenly they are talking about morality and the rule of law, about justice and security, and all in the ludicrous context of the Tennenbaum affair. Does anyone remember Ramon saying anything about the targeted assassinations? When was the last time Itzik commented on the pregnant women who are delayed at army checkpoints in the territories? What does Pines-Paz think about administrative detentions (arrest without trial)? They have found a convenient target, which shows up their cowardice.

Similarly, the press, which day in and day out turns away from events that are far more appalling, mobilized in unison, in a raucous chorus, to blacken the face of the number-one villain in the neighborhood. Neither Ariel Sharon's iniquities nor Shaul Mofaz's cruelty in the territories, neither the violence of the settlers nor the behavior of the soldiers, make them angry - only Tennenbaum. "Traitor," "scumbag," "thief and cheat" - unrestrained verbal abuse is hurled at the man who, believe it or not, even cheated on his wife.

There is hardly a public debate here on any issue. The construction of the separation wall in its scandalous route; purchasing water from Turkey when there's no need for it; Israel's turning into one of the world's major arms dealers; its acquisition of a fleet of advanced warplanes on the brink of an era in which manned warplanes are becoming irrelevant; the starvation wages in the public sector; the killing of hundreds of children in the territories; the disgraceful discrimination against women. All these issues are hardly addressed. Only Citizen T. generates a storm and becomes the national punching bag, an enemy of the people.

What's the story here? A country that did its duty and brought about the release of one of its citizens from enemy captivity, irrespective of the circumstances. This is a man who got into trouble and may have to be brought to trial, even though he has already been punished plenty, but the decision has to be made according to judicial criteria and not on the basis of a wave of mudslinging in the press.

There is also a prime minister who may have concealed marginal information about his connections in the distant past with someone from Tennenbaum's family, though this is hardly the worst thing the prime minister has done. We forgave Sharon for Kibiya and for Sabra and Chatila, for the closures and sieges, for the mass killing and for encouraging terrorism, for trampling human rights and for killing the prospect of peace - only for Tennenbaum's release is there no forgiveness.

This affair can also teach us something about the value system of Israeli society: There is nothing worse than a betrayal of security. If it should turn out that Tennenbaum was "only" a drug dealer, everyone will be relieved, including Tennenbaum. But who decided that selling secrets is worse than selling drugs? Is selling military secrets the only thing undermining the security of the state? What about the damage to the social fabric by injecting it with drugs?

Anyone who causes damage to the sacred cow of security is immediately considered the most dangerous form of criminal. Why? Because he hurt the security ego, the thing we cherish most. We forgive rapists and thieves occasionally, but we will never forgive someone who "harmed security." That person is immediately subjected to a public lynching, as Tennenbaum is now undergoing.

Tennenbaum is only suspected of selling secrets - apparently a false suspicion - but already he can be accused of anything. It is alright to enter his bedroom freely and call him any foul or vulgar name, it is alright to abuse his family and turn him into a monster. Everything is permissible.

No other criminal gets this kind of treatment here. Robbers are invited to appear on television talk shows after they are released from prison, whereas the spies, although nobody knows the extent of the real damage they might have done, are tarred and feathered in the town square and persecuted until their last breath.

Recall the horror stories disseminated by the defense establishment, and by the media as its echo, ahead of the release from prison of the spy Prof. Marcus Klingberg. Has anyone heard from Klingberg since he left the country and settled in Paris? Was state security harmed by his release? Did anyone settle accounts with the doomsayers who misled us? And now we're getting a replay in the case of Mordechai Vanunu, who is already a monster in the public's eyes, ahead of the conclusion of his harsh prison term, which he served in full, without any of the breaks that are reserved exclusively for "ordinary" criminals.

Tennenbaum is at present an innocent citizen who underwent a very harsh experience. He, too, deserves a measure of compassion. He hasn't yet been convicted of anything. Neither the press, nor MKs, nor even the greatest security experts, have the right to judge him. The deal that was struck with him was perhaps wrong, but it is far from being the most significant unjust affair that is occurring here.