Barak's Arrival May Bode Well for Vanunu

by Rayna Moss
The author, a free-lance translator based in Tel Aviv, is a member of the Israeli Committee for Vanunu.

Probably the best news for Mordechai Vanunu following the May election in Israel is the appointment of Knesset Member Yossi Beilin to the post of Justice Minister. A central figure in the left-liberal wing of the Labor Party, Beilin has gone on record as opposing administrative detention (detention without trial) and other human rights abuses by security forces.

As a former deputy foreign minister (in Rabin's cabinet), Beilin also should be more sensitive to the international ramifications of Vanunu's continued imprisonment and the conditions thereof. At the very least, Beilin should be convinced to improve Vanunu's conditions in prison (i.e. lifting the ban on visitors outside his immediate family, permit media interviews, etc.)

At best, Beilin has the authority to recommend Vanunu's release to State President Ezer Weizman, and should be urged to do so.

The Justice Minister also has impact on the appointment of judges, important in light of Vanunu's pending petitions to the courts concerning human rights violations.

Another newly elected official who will hopefully be an ally in the campaign for Vanunu's release is Knesset Member Rabbi Melchior, who also served as the chief rabbi of Norway, and who is believed to support Vanunu's release. Melchior is slated for the position of Minister Without Portfolio and should be appointed within the next few months.

Despite these signs of hope, the larger political picture in Israel indicates the necessity for continuing to campaign both for Vanunu's release and for closing down the nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Ehud Barak won the elections following a campaign that highlighted his military career and his lifelong war against the Palestin-ians, a campaign that often contained racist overtones. His 18-member cabinet consists of 17 men and no Arabs, contrary to promises he made before the election.

While people who supported Barak as the "lesser evil" explained that his campaign was designed to win over voters from the Likud party, he has not shown any signs of changing his line once elected.

Barak's doctrine of a "small but smart army" may well mean that he supports nuclear weapons both as a deterrent and as a tactical measure, as opposed to large scale conventional forces. And while larger sections of the Israeli public are showing concern about the environmental and health risks entailed in the existence of a 30-year-old reactor that has never been inspected by representatives of the public or international organizations, the vast majority of policy makers choose to ignore this issue completely, and call on the public to trust the powers that be.

One blatant example of this was the exposure last May of a high school operating within the Dimona reactor compound, a shocking revelation that appeared not on the front page on an investigative newspaper but in a youth magazine usually dedicated to teen fashions and pop stars. Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, after being alerted by the Israeli Committee for Vanunu, sent a parliamentary inquiry to Labor Minister Eli Yishai, who replied that the school operates under the authority of the Labor Ministry and the Defense Ministry within the Atomic Energy Committee's compound, but "the students are not involved in any work in which there is a danger of radiation and do not ever enter 'hot areas.'" Nevertheless, the minister stated, all instructions concerning "industrial safety" that applied to reactor employees also applied to the students.

This nonchalant approach can only exist in an atmosphere of ignorance on the part of an uninformed and misled public. While working for Vanunu's release is a top priority, the Israeli and international campaigns must also focus on exposing the dangers of secret nuclear and biological weapons installations in Israel.