Vanunu: a prophet revived

by Andy Oram

Early in the campaign to free Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear
whistle-blower, I bought a T-shirt that showed Vanunu's face and
quoted the epiphanic Biblical passage where God says to Jeremiah, "I
gave you as a prophet to the nations." For a long time I was a bit
embarrassed by that grandiose quotation. But today, as Vanunu is
released from prison, I sense that it is accurate. Vanunu resembles a
prophet in many ways: testy, unruly, over the top in his
pronouncements, incapable of delivering a message without delivering
discomfort as well, but ultimately, in a deep way, correct.

The world of 1986, when Vanunu revealed that the Israeli government
had assembled a nuclear arsenal of hundreds of weapons, is different
from the world into which he is re-emerging (with his ultimate freedom
still undetermined--he may be barred from meeting with journalists or
leaving Israel). Vanunu, a principled pacifist, blew the whistle on
the Israeli government in the hope of pushing forward disarmament the
world over. He boldly put forward the proposition that nuclear weapons
do not make us safer, but rather put us more at risk. The world he
re-enters is a confirmation of his warning.

The Israeli government was incensed that Vanunu had revealed its
secret, but who expressed surprise at his revelations? None of the
Arab countries batted an eyelash. Washington yawned. The only people
from whom the Israeli arsenal was a secret were the world's
public. After Vanunu, normal Israelis had a chance to debate the
nuclear option. Most of them, of course, ignored and excoriated the
prophet. It's still open to debate whether Israel needed its weapons
to stay alive. After all, it managed to win over its enemies in every
conventional war. We know its weapons make everybody around it less

Today, Asia is awash in nuclear weapons. The end of the double
hegemony of the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the Cold War era meant
that a lot of countries couldn't depend on a nuclear umbrella from a
super-power and decided they had to get a bit of their own.
The Bush administration has largely abandoned any reasonable program
to get North Korea to give them up (it would require a guarantee of
their safety), and both the Americans and the Europeans realize that
weaning Iran away from its program will take much longer than they had

Outside Asia, even leftist Brazil is teasing us with a possible
nuclear weapons program. As one speaker from the
American Friends Service Committee
said at an event I organized around Vanunu (an event I held at my
synagogue, angering the Rabbi and many synagogue members), "Any
technology that's fifty years old is hard to keep secret."

Vanunu was recently quoted in the press as saying that the Zionist
state should disappear and that Jews should live in a Palestine
controlled by the surrounding Arab majority. This is again the
hallmark of a prophet. The question is not whether the idea is
shocking to Zionists. Vanunu has never claimed to have easy answers.
The question is whether his statement is a stark recognition of

What is the effect of the nuclearization of world politics?


2004-04-21 10:42:29
You call him a prophet, others call him a traitor, as in high treason.

But, alas, your comment exemplifies the advice that technologists better stay away from making political statements.

2004-04-21 16:54:30
So only politicians should participate in politics? Yeah, that'll solve ALL of our problems.