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Israel's Secret Weapon

Since its March 15 premier at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in London, the BBC program Israel's Secret Weapon has been the focus of a great deal of attention and controversy. Producer/director Giselle Portenier and reporter Olenka Frenkiel put together a hard-hitting documentary about Israel's nuclear and chemical weapons, with a sympathetic portrayal of its imprisoned nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu. The show, which raises timely questions about double standards in the world's treatment of Israel and Iraq regarding weapons of mass destruction, hit the airwaves just days before the U.S. and U.K. attack on Iraq. Giselle Portenier, Nick and Mary Eoloff, Ian Perry, Olenka Frenkiel. Israel, January 2003

Before the 45 minute program was due to air on BBC during evening prime time on March 16, Israel was considering lodging a strong protest about the show. The documentary, part of the Correspondent series, was also criticized by the British Board of Deputies and other Jewish groups in the U.K.

When coverage that day of the Azores summit on Iraq ran overtime, the program was postponed until Monday, March 17, at 11:20 p.m. The BBC was immediately flooded by complaints about the time switch via phone and email, from members of the Free Vanunu campaign and other viewers. They reported receiving more than 2,500 calls. Although senior BBC managers did privately admit that the decision was controversial, the BBC denied allegations that they had bowed to political pressure.

The controversy regarding the program is well-earned. The documentary does not avoid the difficult questions regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal - questions largely ignored by the world community. In fact, attempts to interview a U.S. government official about Israel's nuclear weapons were unsuccessful.

Israel's Secret Weapon opens with the story of Nick and Mary Eoloff, Mordechai Vanunu's adoptive parents. It includes an interview with Shimon Peres, who arrogantly refuses to answer Frenkiel's questions; a meeting with members of the Israeli committee to free Vanunu; and documents unsuccessful attempts to interview Dimona workers who are now suffering from cancer, and were warned by the Shin Bet not to talk. It touches on the case of retired Brigadier General and nuclear insider Yitzhak Yaacov, who was convicted of showing people his unpublished book manuscripts, and reveals information about Israeli army use of an unidentified chemical weapon against Palestinians in the winter of 2001.

The program also revealed for the first time a photo of the mysterious "Y" - exposed in 2001 as Yehiyel Horev, head of Israel's most powerful intelligence service dealing with nuclear and military secrets, and reported to be the real force blocking Vanunu's release. Ronen Bergman, who is security correspondent for the newspaper Yediot Ahronot, referred to Horev as a serious danger to Israeli democracy, saying he "operates with no law, no real scrutiny and no monitoring by the Israeli parliament."

When the program aired, the BBC put a link from their website to the websites of the U.S. and U.K. campaigns to free Vanunu. In the two days following the broadcast of the program, the website of the U.S. campaign was visited over 2,000 times!

The program has since been shown on television in a couple of other countries. A theater showing in the San Francisco/Bay area is being planned for September, and small community showings have taken place at meetings in the U.S., U.K. and Israel.

If you would like to try to get the program included in a Jewish, documentary, international or other film festival in your community, please contact the U.S. campaign for more information.


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