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Plan to take adult son out of Israel hits snag

Chao Xiong
Star Tribune
Published April 12, 2004

Mary and Nick Eoloff on Saturday received the worst news that eager parents could expect -- their adoptive son can't come home with them to St. Paul. He is barred from leaving his resident country of Israel and can't even go within 300 meters of its borders.

The Eoloffs were set to leave this morning on a flight bound for Tel Aviv to visit Mordechai Vanunu, a grown man and prison inmate they adopted in an effort to bring him to the United States. The spare bedroom in their St. Paul condo is ready for him, but the retired couple, both in their 70s, are beside themselves because he won't be coming home with them.

"We're not even going to make plans until we get there," Mary Eoloff said Sunday.

Vanunu, 49, is in prison for treason and leaking sensitive information about nuclear weapons. His story has become an international rallying point for some anti-nuclear activists.

He will be freed April 21 from a high-security Israeli prison after serving an 18-year sentence. Vanunu, a Moroccan-born Jew who converted to Christianity, was a technician at Israel's secret Dimona nuclear plant.

Believing that Israelis deserved to know about their country's stash of nuclear weapons, he leaked photos from inside the plant to the London Sunday Times in 1986. From that information, experts determined that Israel possessed the sixth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

The Eoloffs, self-described "radical Catholics," adopted Vanunu seven years ago. They learned this weekend that Vanunu's application for a passport has been denied by the Israeli Security Services. After he leaves prison, he will be prohibited from leaving the country, and he can't go within 100 meters of any foreign embassy or within 300 meters of the country's border or occupied territories. Vanunu may also be prohibited from using the telephone and Internet, said Jack Cohen-Joppa, of Tuscon, Ariz., associate coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu.

Vanunu had planned to return with the Eoloffs to St. Paul and live a " quiet, normal life," Mary said.

Unwed and childless, Vanunu wanted to apply the knowledge of American history he learned during his nearly 12 years of solitary confinement in a windowless, 6-by-9 cell and teach at a university, she said. After exchanging letters, the Eoloffs -- Nick, a retired editor of law books at West Publishing, and Mary, briefly a teacher and chiefly a housewife -- adopted Vanunu in 1997 under the erroneous assumption that he would become a U.S. citizen. Citizenship is granted only to adopted children under 16. The couple has visited him about twice a year since then.

"I think it's a publicity stunt to adopt him in that manner," said Julie Swiler, spokeswoman for the regional Jewish Community Relations Council. "He gave away government secrets that put his country and the citizens of his country at risk. That's a very serious offense. I can't imagine anyone would have this campaign for an American spy who put our safety at risk."

The campaign to free Vanunu has taken on global proportions, with vigils planned for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., the day of his release. Other vigils are set around that date in San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, London, Dublin and Sydney, among others. Vanunu's supporters champion his nuclear-weapons consciousness. He has received an award from the Nuclear-Free Future Society of Munich, Germany and was nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

But Swiler contends that more serious nuclear-disarmament issues like those involving Iran and Pakistan should take precedent over whether Vanunu can come to the United States.

"This effort on the part of the Eoloffs is strange and surprising, really," she said.

The Eoloffs last visited Vanunu in November. Mary said that Vanunu was "full of jubilation" at the time but that she can only imagine how he must feel now. Their mail correspondence can take months to arrive, so they haven't heard from him since rumors of a possible passport denial and other restrictions were recently confirmed in the Israeli news media.

Mary said she and her husband plan to stay in Israel until April 26, but they will stay longer if necessary. The longtime peace activists solicited the help of U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who relayed the request to Secretary of State Colin Powell. There's been no response.

"It's so unknown for us right now," Mary said.

Vanunu is estranged from most of his siblings and his biological parents; his father is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Cohen-Joppa said Vanunu has one brother in Israel who will likely help him settle if he is unable to come to St. Paul. Vanunu had planned to stay in St. Paul for a while before relocating to one of the coasts, Mary said.

Vanunu has a week to appeal the restrictions and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is prepared to help him, Cohen-Joppa said.

"We are at the point of mobilizing public protest of the Israeli government's actions," Cohen-Joppa said.

Chao Xiong is at
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