Vanunu Awarded Honorary Doctorate at Norwegian University

by Nicholas and Mary Eoloff

The entire experience of Tromsoe was memorable; from the beautiful snow-capped mountains surrounding the island city, the midnight sun, the beautiful campus and all of the May 15 events leading up to and culminating with the formal ceremony entitled: "Conferral of an Honorary Doctorate on Mordechai Vanunu" in the Hall of the Medicine and Health Studies on the campus of the Univeristy of Tromsoe, Norway.

The day began with a happy reunion with Mordechai's brother, Meir, and the introduction and meetings with various academics and professionals scheduled to be presenters at The Vanunu Seminar. These activities were followed by a gathering with members of the Tromsoe University History Faculty, who were instrumental in the groundbreaking decision to award Mordechai the honorary doctorate.

In the course of conversation with these talented faculty members, we immediately sensed their deep and abiding commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons, and their hope that Mordechai's long suffering will awaken people to the threat that nuclear weapons pose to humankind. It was a richly nurturing experience for both of us.

At the seminar, attended mainly by graduate students, Fredrik Heffermehl, President of the Norwegian Peace Alliance, began with the question, "Is Mordechai Vanunu a traitor or a model world citizen?" He argued that "with small groups of insiders able to pursue dangerous ideas behind closed doors, whistleblowers become an indispensable element of a functioning democracy. Our world needs loyalty, it needs people who speak up, who blow the whistle, who say like Mordechai Vanunu, 'If I don't tell the truth, who will?'" He concluded by saying that the true test of the health of a democracy is its attitude toward dissent.

Stale Eskeland, Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Oslo, notes the International Court of Justice's replies to the question (in 1996) "Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances permitted under international law?" The Court's 14 judges gave unanimous statements on a number of crucial points and the president of the Court, Mr. Bedjaoui, declared that "Nuclear weapons, the ultimate evil, destabilize humanitarian law. The very existence of nuclear weapons is a great challenge to humanitarian law itself. One would lack the most elementary prudence if one placed the survival of the State above all other considerations, especially above the survival of humanity itself."

Jon Hellesnes, Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Tromsoe, spoke of the case of Mordechai Vanunu as a case of free speech and civil disobedience. He argued that Mordechai's act was "a protest against nuclear armaments as well as against the secrecy of Israel; that his principles appealed to non-controversial examples of transnational political morality; that the normative barrier against the spreading of weapons of mass destruction has a high degree of legitimacy" and concluded that Mordechai acted within the definition of civil disobedience. However, the Court did not treat him as a civilly disobedient political dissident, but as a traitor. Therefore, "the behavior of the judicial authority in Israel does not qualify as an example of civilized legal practice."

Sir Joseph Rotblat, President Emeritus of Pugwash, London, and 1995 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, summarized his talk by saying that "the feasibility of a nuclear-weapon-free world depends to a large extent on the existence of an effective verification regime, but the technological system of verification cannot convincingly provide such a degree of effectiveness. For this reason a system of societal verification will be needed in which all members of the community would have an active role. All citizens would be given the right and the duty to provide information to an international authority about attempts to violate the terms of the treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons. Legislation should be enacted to safeguard this right and duty."

The climax of the day was the formal conferral celebration with its pageantry, academic procession and beautiful music by the Chamber Choir of the Regional College and the University of Tromsoe. The program began with a speech in which Professor Randi Roenning, Balsvik Faculty of Social Sciences, detailed the complete history of Mordechai's life from his family's emigration from Morocco to Israel, his service in the Israeli army, his education, employment at and departure from Dimona, his conversion to the Anglican faith, his encounters with Peter Hounam of the London Sunday Times, his abduction, trial and his continuing imprisonment. Her delivery was full of conviction and emotion that ended with an inspiring reading of Mordechai's poem, "I am Your Spy."

Professor Roenning's speech was followed by poignant remakrs from the University's Rector, Tove Bull. She emphasized that universities the world over, in addition to their work in scientific research and academic excellence, must be actively involved in the struggle for human rights and justice, and that the University's action in awarding Mordechai that honorary degree was a step in that direction.

Mordechai's brother, Meir, upon acceptance of the honorary degree for Mordechai, laid the background for Mordechai's involvement and said that "if Norway had not sold heavy water to Israel twenty years ago, my brother would not be in prison."

The final speaker was Sir Joseph Rotblat who ended with the endearing, energizing statement that "we must preserve the earth because it is so precious."

Nicholas and Mary Eoloff are the adoptive parents of Mordechai Vanunu. They live in St. Paul, Minnesota.