FROM time to time the Israeli government complains that its policies are deliberately distorted and misunderstood by its critics. It points out that although it is the only true democracy in the Middle East many of Europe's citizens and some of its governments prefer to take the side of the Palestinians in their disputes with Israel. Just recently, the Israeli government decided to make greater efforts to project the positive side of Israel by means of a new public relations campaign. The fact is, however, that public relations can achieve very little if there is a serious problem about the “product” it is promoting. For reasons that are apparent to anyone who watches the TV news bulletins regularly, Israel is not an easy sell and its problem is exacerbated by policies that seem to the outside world crude and counter-productive.

There is no better example than the way in which the recent release of Mordechai Vanunu from 18 years imprisonment for leaking secrets about Israel's nuclear weapons programme has been handled. Although Mr Vanunu has served the sentence imposed on him, he has been subjected to a daunting array of restrictions on his freedom, even down to the people he may meet or speak to by telephone. The Israeli authorities justify these restrictions on the grounds that Vanunu may “still have secrets to sell”. He was never a senior scientist and, anyway, everyone knows about Israel's nuclear capabilities even though they are still officially non-existent.

At 11.45pm on BBC2 tonight, an interview with Vanunu will be shown in Israel's Nuclear Whistleblower; the BBC's producers have had to go to extraordinary lengths to obtain this interview and to get it out of Israel. No wonder Israel's “image” in the rest of the world is so negative.


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