A Vanunu-Pollard Swap? Opinions Differ

by Sam Day
Sam Day is coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu.

        Seen by some as an opportunity and by others as a fatal trap, the case of Jonathan Pollard has come to stalk the worldwide movement for the release of Mordechai Vanunu.
        Pollard is the Pentagon analyst who spied for Israel in the 1980s and is now serving a life sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina.  He became a household name last October when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to halt the Wye Conference peace talks unless Pollard were set free.
        Vanunu is the Israeli technician serving an 18-year term in Israel for going public with information about his government's secret nuclear weapons program, where he once worked. His case is known to a relatively few in the United States.
        Some fundamental differences distinguish the two cases. One man was a paid spy; the other was a whistle blower. One worked for a foreign government; the other gave his story to a newspaper. One spent 11 1/2 years in solitary confinement and remains isolated from the world; the other lives in relative comfort and enjoys unrestricted access. One has the full backing of a foreign government that works tirelessly for his release; the other can rely only on amorphous, unorganized international moral support.
        Yet certain similarities link the cases. Pollard and Vanunu are about the same age. Both had ideological motives. Both are serving lengthy terms for nonviolent, victimless, white collar crimes. Both have been demonized by the governments and mass media of their respective homelands.
         Government-inspired media trashing of Vanunu was so vitriolic in the early days that the mainstream peace and environmental movements in Israel still shun his cause. Similarly, the national security lobby in Washington, still stung by the magnitude of his security breach, has depicted Pollard as another Benedict Arnold.
       The animus against Pollard on Capitol Hill is so intense that some Members of Congress declined to sign a letter asking President Clinton to work for Vanunu's release, suspecting a back-door effort to engineer a Pollard-Vanunu exchange.
        Some of Vanunu's most ardent supporters favor a Vanunu-Pollard swap as the best means of securing Vanunu's early release. The European Parliament, for one, which long has advocated Vanunu's release, is currently entertaining such a proposal.
        Others argue that to equate the two cases through a prisoner exchange would be to tarnish Vanunu's act as a whistle blower in the cause of peace. Vanunu in his letters has strenuously opposed the idea of a swap, saying he would not accept freedom under such circumstances.
        While not advocating a Vanunu-Pollard swap, the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu says that if Clinton is inclined to free Pollard he should insist that Israel first free Vanunu. The goal of the campaign should include not only  the early release of Vanunu but also the achievement of a nuclear-free world, for which he risked his freedom.