Glasgow University students propose Vanunu for Rector

Mordechai Vanunu alerts the world to the nature of his capture by kidnapping in 1986. (File)

It is 1986. One man risks his life, his freedom and his future to save the world from the impending disaster of nuclear proliferation while another sets aside International law, any semblance of human decency and universal justice to order the kidnap of the former. One of them goes on to spend 18 years in jail –- 11 of which are spent in solitary confinement –- while the other wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

In a world less cynical, it would be safe to assume that courage and conscience were rewarded while the disregard for law precipitated the punitive measures. Alas, the world we live in nurtures apathy as a virtue; embraces selfishness as a guiding principle while courage and integrity are relegated as qualities whose appreciation is contingent on the rarity of their appearance.

Mordechai Vanunu, the man who risked it all to draw the world’s attention towards the nuclear ambitions of his nation -– which far exceeded its so-called security considerations –- was thrown into prison, and erased from public memory. Shimon Peres, who ordered his kidnap and oversaw the subsequent sham of a trial, went on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Vanunu got re-arrested just recently for speaking the truth, whereas Mr. Peres thrives behind the protective wall of international diplomacy which is rarely penetrated by truth or principle. Liberal conformists would proclaim a dilemma: whether it’s possible to adhere to the universal principles of justice and morality without abandoning respect for the international institutions that seem immune to these truisms? Students at the University of Glasgow, fortunately, have transcended the need for such institutionalized legitimacy.

The Tower from the East Quadrangle at the University of Glasgow. (UoG)

As in the past, the students of the University of Glasgow are not afraid to show the way to the rest of the world. They will not worship power, they will not consecrate privilege. They will honor courage, they will reward integrity and they will recognize human endurance. Mordechai Vanunu may have been forgotten by the rest of the world; Israel may have used the death of Yasir Arafat as a diversion to arrest Vanunu again, but the students here are intent on bringing him back to the limelight. Mordechai Vanunu has been nominated to run for Rector at this institute which is one of the four oldest in Britain, and one of its most prestigious.

Vanunu symbolizes so many of the nobler aspirations of the global justice movement that the Vanunu4Rector Campaign has attracted volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Support has been extended by human rights campaigners, by advocates of nuclear disarmament, by the anti-war movement and by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign — since Vanunu has been an outspoken advocate of Palestinian human rights. As a matter of fact, it was the tireless efforts of Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign that made this possible in the face of overwhelming odds.

The law requires the written consent of all people running for the election and this posed the first major obstacle, since the State of Israel has prohibited Vanunu from corresponding with any foreigners. The papers he signed apparently didn’t make it past the censors, but eventually students were able to get hold of them employing alternate means. Given the absence of coverage surrounding Vanunu’s case, the major task now is for the campaigners to introduce him to the swathe of individuals who still remain oblivious to his sacrifices both within, and without the University. The BBC’s last attempt to draw attention to his case and Israel’s large undeclared nuclear arsenal was rewarded with an Israeli ban on its journalists and charges of “anti-Semitism”.

The initial convergence of the disparate groups has quickly developed into a solid force with a cohesive campaign strategy. The campaign is focused on highlighting the sacrifice of Vanunu and at the same time delivering a strong message against the proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction. Details of the campaign’s proposed activities are listed on its official website. Volunteers have been busy pamphleteering and engaging other students in discussions to draw further support for this campaign. The campaign has received support from some of Scotland’s prominent writers, academics, celebrities and human rights activists.

Mordechai Vanunu reads a newspaper in the grounds of the Anglican cathedral of St George’s, East Jerusalem. (Meir Vanunu)

The continuing plight of Mordechai Vanunu was brought back into focus on the 11th of November, when six months after his release, he was arrested again. According to The Guardian, witnesses saw Vanunu being bundled into an unmarked car by Israeli law enforcement agencies. The International Federation of Journalists lodged a strong protest with the State of Israel since his re-arrest was justified on the charges of unauthorized communication with foreign journalists. As Vanunu has repeatedly stated, everything that he had to reveal, he already did back in 1986 not to mention the fact that the astronomical advances of technology in the past eighteen years would render any information that old quite useless.

The campaigners feel that the election would go a long way in securing his release from captivity –- and possibly an asylum bid in the US or UK -– by putting his case in the limelight. Given the stature of Glasgow University, it will be very hard for the media to remain indifferent to such a development. This story has been making headlines in UK, Australia and even Israel itself, but predictably enough, it has been ignored completely by the US mainstream media.

The campaign would like to see this change and escalate into a media coup where the hypocrisy of the Western leaders is put into focus once again. In the aftermath of the current war in Iraq –- which was supposedly fought to diffuse the threat of WMDs –- a country within the region is not only known to possess one of the biggest stockpiles of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological weapons, but has also been allowed to abrogate the human rights of its citizen who dared to point this out. Just as the credibility and moral stature of these leaders diminishes by the day, the students of Glasgow University will provide the starkest contrast by elevating one of their victims for his conscience, principle and courage.

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    Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is an active member of the Vanunu4Rector Campaign. He is a filmmaker, a writer and a musician, currently pursuing his PhD in Media Research at the University of Glasgow.