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The Case of Mordechai Vanunu

To the Editors:

Your readers may be interested in the enclosed appeal by twenty-seven scientists on behalf of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who, on March 27, was sentenced by a military tribunal to eighteen years in prison for having made public information about Israel’s nuclear capacity.

Rudolf Peierls

Oxford, England


The vast arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world is a continuous threat to the survival of life on the planet.

Over the years, many people of conscience have sought to arouse world opinion to the grave danger posed to humanity by expanding nuclear weapons systems and their introduction to new arenas of conflict.

As early as 1946, Albert Einstein appealed to humanity to place ahead of every consideration the moral imperative of active opposition to the imminent prospect of annihilation presented by the stock piling of nuclear weapons, their delivery systems and the willingness of governments to threaten their use.

Henceforth,” wrote Einstein in 1946, “every nation’s foreign policy must be judged at every point by one consideration, does it lead to a world of law and order, or does it lead back toward anarchy and death? When humanity holds in its hand the weapon with which it can commit suicide, I believe that to put more power into the gun is to increase the probability of disaster.”

Citing Bernard Baruch’s declaration that the problem is not one of physics but of ethics, Albert Einstein stated in 1946, “In all negotiations, whether over Spain, Argentina or Palestine, so long as we rely on the threat of military power, we are attempting to use old methods in a world which is changed forever.”

Albert Einstein urged scientists to carry these truths “to the village square.” He summoned people of conscience to speak out no matter the magnitude of personal risk and concluded with the words

When we are clear in heart and mind—only then shall we find courage to surmount the fear which haunts the world.

The Einstein declaration was taken up by the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists and signed by Linus Pauling, Harold Urey, Hans Bethe, Selig Hecht, Philip Morse, Thorfin Hogness, Leo Szilard and Victor Weisskopf.

By 1955, fifty-two Nobel Laureates added their voices in the Mainau Declaration, urging all “scientists of different countries, different creeds, different political persuasions,” to speak out against the “horror that this very science is giving mankind the means to destroy itself.” If nations, the Nobel Laureates warned, did not heed the moral imperative to renounce such weapons and their use, “they will cease to exist.”

Men and women of science have, over the years, responded to a moral imperative, aware that they occupied a unique position as creators of knowledge which had enabled governments to forge weapons of mass murder.

Albert Schweitzer, in his Declaration of Conscience, said in 1957 to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo, “A public opinion of this kind stands in no need of plebiscites…to express itself. It works through just being there…. The end of further experiments with atom bombs would be like the early sunrays of hope which suffering humanity is longing for.”

In this same spirit, ninety-five Fellows of the Royal Society and thirty-six Nobel Laureates from twelve countries were among the 9,235 scientists from around the world who signed the petition to the United Nations initiated by Linus Pauling, opposing the testing of weapons of mass destruction.

For over forty years, men and women of conscience have been stirred by the knowledge that the prospect of nuclear annihilation poses a moral imperative transcending lesser loyalties. Resistance to great evil, even when sanctioned by governmental authority, is its own justification. It is also the prerequisite to social advance.

The crime of Mordechai Vanunu is that he could not, in conscience, maintain silence about a program of nuclear weapons in his country and he spoke of this to a major newspaper. He was responding, in part, to the words of Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein when they wrote,

We appeal as human beings to human beings: remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new paradise. If you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

We appeal to the Israeli court to recognize that Mordechai Vanunu is a man of conscience, deeply disturbed by his role in a nuclear weapons program, who first sought religious guidance and then decided to make public his concerns.

However the court may view a citizen’s responsibility to the state, this act—of making public the reality of Israel’s nuclear program—deserves the court’s understanding and its perception of a moral imperative seized by scientists of conscience throughout the world.

No greater regard can be shown by the court for the decent opinion of humankind than by acknowledging the lonely courage of Mordechai Vanunu, who has acted from considerations of conscience.

We urge you to consider our appeal.

Hannes Alfvén, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1970; Fellow of the Royal Society; Edoardo Amaldi, Fellow of the Royal Society; Paul Beeson, M.D., National Academy of Science; Hans Bethe, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1967; Fellow of the Royal Society; signer of original Einstein Declaration; Owen Chamberlain, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1959; Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1983; Fellow of the Royal Society; Ragnar Granit, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1967; Fellow of the Royal Society; Robert Hinde, Fellow of the Royal Society; Dorothy Hodgkin, Nobel Laureate—Chemistry, 1964; Fellow of the Royal Society; Thomas Kibble, Fellow of the Royal Society; S.E. Luria, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1969; Philip Morrison, group leader, Los Alamos, 1944–1946; Linus Pauling, Nobel Laureate—Chemistry, 1954; Peace, 1962; Fellow of the Royal Society; Sir Rudolph Peierls, Fellow of the Royal Society; Francis Perrin, Grand Officer, Legion of Honor; former High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, France; John Polanyi, Nobel Laureate—Chemistry, 1985; Fellow of the Royal Society; Edward Purcell, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1952; Carl Sagan; Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1979; Fellow of the Royal Society; Frederick Sanger, Nobel Laureate—Chemistry, 1958, 1980; Fellow of the Royal Society; Roger Sperry, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1981; Fellow of the Royal Society; Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1973; Fellow of the Royal Society; Charles Townes, Nobel Laureate—Physics, 1964; Fellow of the Royal Society; George Wald, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1967; Victor Weisskopf, group leader, Los Alamos, 1943–1947; signer of original Einstein Declaration; Torsten Wiesel, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1981; Maurice Wilkins, Nobel Laureate—Medicine and Physiology, 1962; Fellow of the Royal Society

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