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One Is a Free Hero, the Other, a Hostage

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israelis protest for the release of Jonathan Pollard, November 23, 2005. // Supporters protest, calling for Mordechai Vanunu's release, April 21, 2005.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Another festival comes and goes: Jonathan Pollard seems likely to immigrate to Israel. He already earned Israeli citizenship while in prison, and he may of course take advantage of it – but let’s not make him a national hero, as the right would like to do. Pollard is neither a hero nor is he a nationalist. He’s a spy, an American Jew who betrayed his country, doing damage to both his community and Israel.

The defense establishment in the United States did indeed treat him cruelly; but Israel has no right to complain. Its treatment of another man, a man with arguably more values than Pollard, Mordechai Vanunu, is much crueler. And yet - a torch has already been lit on Mount Herzl on Independence Day for the former, while the torture of the other hasn’t ended to this very day, and hardly anyone says anything in protest.

Israelis call to release Jonathan Pollard, Jerusalem, January 2, 2014.
Israelis call to release Jonathan Pollard, Jerusalem, January 2, 2014.Credit: AFP

It’s not fair to compare the two. Despite the efforts of Israeli media to fondly but meanly call him “the atomic spy,” Vanunu did not engage in espionage, but published information in his possession to express his legitimate anti-nuclear and anti-Zionist ideology. The campaign of vengeance against him was not due to any security damage he had supposedly done – it’s doubtful that he caused any – but aggressive political reasons. In fact, if any damage was done, it was by the cruelty toward him reported around the world. This is what will befall a person who tries to challenge the foundations of the state and breaks a total public silence imposed on the nuclear issue.

Pollard said he acted on Zionist motives but based on published reports he offered his services to a few other countries as well, including the apartheid regime of South Africa, Islamist Pakistan and what was then known as Red China. That’s what his conscience was like. His actions were for monetary greed, he wasn’t a spy for hire. His Israeli handlers, the main ones to blame for the fiasco, were never punished – they were also hailed as heroes in Israel.

It’s not hard to imagine what will happen in the current Israel if Pollard decides to immigrate: An official welcoming ceremony at the airport, noisy and groveling media coverage, free housing in a settlement, a reception at the Prime Minister’s Office, honorary citizenship in the restive West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, another torch lighting at Mount Herzl and perhaps even an Israel Prize awarded for lifetime achievement. Only a threat from the United States may prevent some of these farces from happening. Israel, who abandoned him and prevented him from fleeing to its embassy, will compensate him now by anointing him as a hero and martyr.

Vanunu, who deserves much greater admiration for his courage, sacrifice and determined struggle, will never be hoisted on the shoulders of most of Israel’s left. Only overseas does he get the respect he deserves: He has won a countless number of international awards, including the John Lennon peace prize. Vanunu wants to sever ties with Israel. Israel prevents his departure based on false excuses which the court approves again and again. Vanunu is the real Prisoner of Zion of the two. Pollard who petitioned the High Court of Justice for the title, doesn’t deserve it. Vanunu served an 18-year sentence, including 11 in scandalous isolation, and Israel still doesn’t loosen the noose. It even sent him back to prison for “speaking to foreigners” and “moving to another apartment without permission” –  oh, the democracy.

Supporters of Mordechai Vanunu gather on the day of his release from prison, Shikma Prison, Ashkelon, April 21, 2004.
Supporters of Mordechai Vanunu gather on the day of his release from prison, Shikma Prison, Ashkelon, April 21, 2004. Credit: Nir Kafri

We should trust history to fix the distortion. Vanunu will be remembered as a hero before his time, Pollard will not be remembered at all. Pollard deserves a life of freedom, but Vanunu, even more so. For years the security establishment threatened another ideological spy who was also tortured by the system, Marcus Klingberg, who was barred from leaving the country so that state security would not be compromised. Klingberg spent his last years with his daughter and grandson in Paris, and nothing happened. Now Pollard is free. Good for him. Vanunu will continue to be held hostage, and that’s a disgrace.

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