Mordechai Vanunu, the former Israeli nuclear technician and whistleblower, learned his appeal was rejected by Israel’s Supreme Court last Thursday, continuing a range of restrictions on his rights re-imposed since his last release from prison in August 2010. Vanunu is also waiting for the Israeli government to respond to his request for revocation of his citizenship filed in July. On Sunday, he wrote that the court has allowed the government to delay their response.
Vanunu, who worked at the Negev Nuclear Research Center for nine years, leaked details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to two British newspapers in 1986, citing his opposition to weapons of mass destruction amidst Israel’s policy of deliberate ambiguity – the country has never confirmed or denied maintaining a nuclear weapons program but Your Linkcredible estimates of its size were made based on the disclosure, many times greater than what independent analysts thought at the time.
Shortly afterwards, he was lured to Italy by a Mossad agent where he was abducted, drugged, transported to Israel and tried in secret, famously revealing the hearing’s details by pressing his note-scrawled hand against the window of the car transporting him. He served a sentence of 18 years for charges of treason and espionage, including 11 years in solitary confinement.
Though he was released in 2004, he has since been subject to a range of prohibitions that were re-introduced again after further detentions in 2007 and 2010, each for violations of the rules regarding his communication and movement. Israeli authorities have justified the restrictions on security grounds, citing fears that Vanunu may disclose other state secrets, despite expert opinion that the full extent his classified knowledge is now publicly available.
The former technician’s imprisonment and treatment have received condemnation from Amnesty International, the International League for Human Rights, and multiple laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize. Vanunu himself was nominated for a number of years, and received the Right Livelihood Award in 1987, among other honors. Nevertheless, his case remains little known, with individual developments gathering infrequent coverage.
“You can’t take a poll on Vanunu,” American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky remarked on the case in 2005. “…[I]n the United States at least, I don’t think one out of a million people have ever heard of him. …But among people that have ever heard of it there’s just total outrage.”
Commenting in an email over the weekend, Chomsky called Israel’s actions towards Vanunu “a scandal from the first moment” and said that the “continuing moves to punish him for revealing what we all should know are just another black mark added to an ugly record of vengeace.” Israel is one of four non-parties to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty known or believed to have nuclear weapons, but the only one not to have formally acknowledged possession – though Israeli politicians and others have referenced them by implication or accident, an official admission would expose violation of United States laws against aide to WMD-producing states.
Vanunu has been variously forbidden from contacting non-Israelis and journalists; owning a cellphone or using a landline or the Internet; approaching embassies, bordering crossings and airports; and from leaving the state of Israel itself. Vanunu is also required to keep authorities informed of his residency information and whereabouts, though he has previously given foreign press interviews and maintains an active YouTube channel.
While in prison, Vanunu engaged in numerous symbolic acts of disobedience, such as refusing to exercise his limited rights to psychiatric treatment and social contact. In 1998, he appealed to Israel’s interior ministry to revoke his citizenship, with hopes that it would increase his chances for gaining permanent residency in Europe.
Previously rejected on grounds that it would leave him a stateless citizen, Vanunu appealed again in 2010 but reported a week ago that “the [government] did not answer the [C]ourt yet” regarding his request. In his update on Sunday Vanunu said the court might allow the delay up until November 13, despite the protest of his attorney Avigdor Feldman.
Again citing a potential threat to national security, the decision means Vanunu will not be able to emigrate from Israel, the judges opining that he “has proved several times that he cannot be trusted and does not respect the letter of the law.”
Though unclassified documents reveal the potential role that politics played in the rejection of his application to Norway, two other countries, Sweden and Ireland, also rejected his appeal on the grounds that absentee applications are not accepted. Therefore, his requests for asylum may continue to be denied.