Peres Defeat May Be Good for Mordechai

Rayna Moss is a member of the Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Atomic, Biological, and Chemical Weapons.

by Rayna Moss

Supporters of Mordechai Vanunu may draw some hope and comfort from the fact that former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Shimon Peres lost the presidential election July 31 to Likud party candidate Moshe Katzav.

In Israel the president, holding a largely ceremonial position, is elected by the Knesset (parliament). The 120 Knesset members needed two rounds of voting to make their choice, with Katzav leading in both rounds and ultimately winning, 63-57.

For Vanunu, the significance of Katzav's surprise victory is that the president has the authority to pardon prisoners and/or shorten their prison terms for humanitarian reasons. Peres, prime minister in 1986, when Vanunu blew the whistle on Israel's covert nuclear weapons stockpile, was the one who ordered Vanunu's illegal kidnapping in Italy.

Since 1986 Peres has been an adamant opponent of Vanunu and of any public debate in Israel of the nuclear issue. This is not surprising because since the 1950s he has been a major figure behind the establishment and operation of the Dimona nuclear weapons reactor. He is widely known as the father of the Israeli nuclear weapons program.

While Katzav, a member of the right-wing party, is far from being a Vanunu supporter, he has not publicly denounced Vanunu and has no personal stake in the nuclear industry. Like Vanunu, Katzav is a Sephardic (non-European) Jew. Born in Iran, he comes from a working class family and grew up in Kiryat Malachi, a small town in southern Israel which, like Vanunu's home town of Dimona, suffers from chronic unemployment and underdevelopment.

The failure of Vanunu's arch-opponent in Israel to be elected president opens new opportunities for a presidential pardon for Vanunu.