Principles don’t come cheap these days; left-wing MP’s in New Labour must surely know that forming a breakaway party is the only way to rescue British democracy from its decline into a US-style “right vs. far right” situation. But they’re on good salaries in Whitehall, and the pension’s not bad – it’s a career. So the “Labour left” is doomed to a marginal existence founded on the body language of despondent resignation; this faceless mass of MP’s “voices its concerns” over the Iraq war, with absolutely no hope of influencing the neo-liberals at the heart of the executive. All we’re left with is a weekly dose of the facile ramblings of the “likeable” Diane Abbot on This Week. In the past few days, thousands of miles away, a true hero was arrested once again by the Israeli state.
Mordechai Vanunu was a technician at Israel’s nuclear bomb factory at Dimona. At this time the Israeli state publicly denied that it was developing weapons of mass destruction; in September 1986, Vanunu went to London and leaked photos of the secret plant to the Sunday Times. On September 30th, he was lured to Rome by a female Israeli Mossad agent, where he was beaten, drugged and taken back to Israel. At a secret trial, Vanunu was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment for spying, even though he had not passed on the information to any state or clandestine organisation, and had not received or demanded any payment.
For the first 12 years of his sentence, Vanunu was kept in strict isolation, in a cell no bigger than six square metres. The unrepentant prisoner was released in April 2004. His release was subject to restrictions preventing him from speaking to anyone, or from leaving Israel. The Israeli state now continues to persecute Vanunu, arresting him this week on the absurd premise that he still had more secrets to share. Vanunu was not an advanced scientist, but a subordinate technical assistant; the security issue is being used as a pretext to justify a policy which amounts to exemplary persecution.
Others argue that the reason for Israel’s continued persecution of Vanunu is more politically motivated; Israel may find it embarrassing that Vanunu was abducted in violation of the territorial integrity of Britain and Italy, and the Israeli state may hope to silence him forever to cover up its own illegal actions. Vanunu’s decision to speak out, at grave personal risk to himself, makes him a hero for the peace movement. The Israeli people, and the world at large, had a right to know what was going on at Dimona. If we are to apply the dubious logic that is so widely accepted – the logic that sees nuclear weapons only as an effective deterrent – then Vanunu was in fact helpful to Israel in giving credible evidence of the weapons.
It was sadly predictable that the barbarism of Israel’s behaviour towards Vanunu would not end upon his initial release back in April. Even very authoritarian regimes have often respected the notion that, once a prisoner serves their sentence, he or she deserves to be left alone. Israel has seen fit to deny Vanunu even this courtesy, and in so doing it is behaving in a manner comparable with the worst excesses of Stalinism or Nazism. This whole saga will only confirm the widespread perception that the Israeli state operates on an ethos whereby the most undemocratic reactionary tendencies are given legitimacy by the twin moral blank cheques of US backing and decades of Western Holocaust guilt. The sufferings of the past justify the repression of the present; it was with these same arguments that the German nation came together after the injustices of the 1918 Versailles Treaty. And it was with these arguments that the United States “became one nation” after September 11th.
“You’ll never silence the voice of the voiceless.” Mumia Abu-Jamal.