Israeli and Turkish parliamentarians learn about nuclear famine
[On June 18, 2013, IPPNW Co-President Ira Helfand participated in an unprecedented debate about nuclear weapons in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. At an event organized by ICAN-Israel and the Israeli Disarmament Movement, Dr. Helfand presented the scientific findings about the global climate effects of a limited nuclear war, and made a compelling case for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The next day, he traveled to Ankara, where he gave a similar talk about nuclear famine and the medical consequences of nuclear war to the Turkish parliament. The following is Dr. Helfand’s report.]
by Ira Helfand
Sharon Dolev, the ICAN campaigner in Israel, and the Director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement (RPM), ICAN’s partner organization in Israel, organized an enormously successful series of events to publicbize the nuclear famine report, build support for the upcoming Mexico conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and promote a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.
The centerpiece of the event was a discussion of these issues, including open discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. This session was the first ever discussion of nuclear weapons in the Knesset and broke a long-standing taboo against raising this subject in any official forum. The session was held in the conference room of the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee and was hosted by two members of the Knesset, MK Tamar Zangberg of the Meretz Party and MK Dov Khenin of the Hadash Party. Equally important, MK Moshe Feiglin of the ruling Likud Party—one of the pre-eminent hawks in the Knesset—also came and debated nuclear policy for nearly 20 minutes after my presentation on the medical effects of nuclear war. He put forth the argument, common in Israel and other nuclear weapons states, that it is OK for “the good guys” to have nuclear weapons because they need them to protect themselves from “the bad guys.” Nevertheless, he seemed genuinely disturbed by the data showing that even a limited use of nuclear weapons, even by the “good guys,” would cause catastrophic consequences around the world that would affect the “good guys” themselves. He ultimately conceded that the world would be better off without any nuclear weapons and said that there needed to be further reductions in the current nuclear arsenals.
The Knesset session was attended by 20 antinuclear activists, including IPPNW’s Dr. Ra’anan Friedman, as well as by members of the press. It was videotaped and the two host members of the Knesset posted to their large Facebook followings throughout the presentation and debate.
MKs Zangberg and Khenin indicated a desire to continue working on this issue with RPM and are talking now about forming a lobby in the Knesset. MK Feiglin agreed to meet for further discussion about the issue. The meeting was viewed as an historic breakthrough by former MK and RPM Chair Mossi Raz.
RPM also organized a meeting with a senior government official who previously unaware of the nuclear famine study, seemed deeply disturbed by the data, asked many detailed questions, and requested copies of the report in both English and Hebrew (prepared in advance by RPM) so that he could study it more closely. Most significantly, he said Israel might consider participating in the Mexico conference as long as it did not anticipate being singled out for attack, as it has been at many other international meetings. We urged Israeli participation at the side events that ICAN will organize at the UN this fall and he agreed to continue meeting with RPM over the coming months.
In addition to the government meetings, Sharon and her colleagues in RPM organized interviews with the English-language Jerusalem Post, Ha’Aretz, and the religious paper Hamevaser. They also arranged for me to appear on Sharon’s weekly radio show, All for Peace, and arranged extended press briefings with Or Heller, the well known defense correspondent for Channel 10, one of the major Israeli TV stations; with Ami Rokheks, who writes for Israel Defense a publication and web site devoted to security issues; and with Aviv Lavi, a leading environmental correspondent with a column in the business daily Globes and a weekly national radio program.
Arife Kose, the ICAN campaigner in Turkey, organized an extremely successful meeting at the Turkish Parliament on June 19, hosted and sponsored by Professor Aytug Atici, Member of Parliament, a pediatrician, and a member of IPPNW. The hour-long event attracted 18 members of parliament and consisted of a one-hour presentation and discussion of nuclear famine and the medical consequences of nuclear war. The event was also attended by IPPNW-Turkey General Secretary Derman Boztok, IPPNW-Turkey President Ozen Asut, five other members of the affiliate, and representatives of the Platform Against Nuclear, an umbrella group uniting dozens of NGOs opposed, originally to nuclear power, but now working on nuclear weapons as well. At the conclusion, Prof. Atici expressed interest in organizing a Turkish parliamentary delegation to attend the Mexico conference next year. Parliamentarians will be asked to sign a statement endorsing the Mexico conference.
Later in the day, Arife, Derman, and I met with Volkan Oskiper, the Head of Department for Arms Control and Disarmament. Turkey had attended the Oslo conference in March but did not sign on to the joint appeal of 80 NPT member states in May. He indicated, however, that Turkey plans to attend the Mexico conference and is encouraging other states to attend as well. He expressed some skepticism about the value of the ban treaty but was sympathetic to the argument that the nuclear-weapon states need to be pushed from the outside and agreed that their strong aversion to a ban treaty suggests that they are feeling pressured simply by the prospect of its being negotiated.
Oskiper was very familiar with the nuclear famine study from the Oslo presentation, and quoted several of the findings back to us. He is meeting with counterparts in Islamabad next week and agreed to bring a copy of the report to them for us. He will meet further with Arife and Derman in the lead up to Mexico.
Finally, Derman hosted a reception for IPPNW colleagues at the Turkish Medical Association office. The TMA issued a press release on June 19 about the situation in Turkey, specifically addressing the victims of police violence, but also referencing the presentation on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons at the Parliament. A press conference held at the Medical Association dealt with both issues.