Jewish-Australian Leadership Remains Silent on Ben Zygier, or 'Prisoner X'

Speaking on condition of anonymity, top officials differ on reasons for keeping mum, but agree the less said the better.

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Dan Goldberg

SYDNEY – The elected leadership of Australian Jewry fear that the Jews may become the focus of media attention as the fallout continues from the explosive revelations about the incredible life and mysterious death of Israel’s “Prisoner X" in Ayalon Prison.

Amid mounting speculation over the bizarre circumstances surrounding Ben Zygier’s apparent suicide in 2010 inside the suicide-proof cell purpose-built for Yigal Amir, the management committee of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry decided this week to decline to comment publicly on the case.

One senior Jewish leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz: “It’s the dual loyalty issue, that’s the last thing we want to come up. That’s what we are very concerned about."

He added: "If the media start asking why are Jews going to other countries and fighting for them or joining their spy agencies – that’s why we want to keep at arms' length."

Noting that Tuesday night’s Australian Broadcast Corporation documentary – which triggered a tsunami of news reports worldwide – referred to the fact that Australian officials were watching Australian Jews who immigrate to Israel, the source said: “We don’t want to be associated with it. The program took a swipe at the Jews."

Zygier was born in Melbourne in 1976, lived in Jerusalem and on Kibbutz Gazit in 1994 with a Hashomer Hatzir group before taking Israeli citizenship and apparently being recruited by Mossad.

In 2010, Australia’s spy agency was reportedly investigating Zygier and two other Jews who had moved to Israel and were potentially using their Australian passports to travel to Arab countries Israelis cannot gain access to.

Another Jewish leader told Haaretz: “The reasons for staying shtum are clear. The primary reason is because we’re respecting the family, they’re still grieving. Also, we don’t know anything, it’s not that were hiding something. And to comment about this officially suggests it’s got something to do with us – it doesn’t."

He added: "To say that this in some way implicates the Jewish community as a whole is just nonsense."

But a third Jewish leader, who again declined to be named, said he knew the Zygier family well and there was “no way” Zygier committed treason against Israel.

“I’ve seen the boy as a kid, I remember when he went to the army, aliyah. He was such a proud Zionist, so is the family," he said. "There is no way in the world he would have done anything against Israel. I remember when he passed away, we knew he was in the secret service."

He explained further, "We understood and what was the parents’ understanding was that he was killed behind enemy lines. Although it was sad there was a sense of pride. But this is like a second death, like he died again."

He fumed, "It's an embarrassment for the state of Israel. How can it be justified to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and to free prisoners to save the life of one soldier and then to sacrifice one of its own sons? It’s not on. There is something very ugly here about a country we love."

There are also some concerns about the implications for the diplomatic relationship between Canberra and Jerusalem, which has been strained following Australia’s decision to abstain in last year’s UN vote on the status of Palestine.

“I’m sure Foreign Minister Bob Carr won’t miss an opportunity to have a go,” was how one Jewish leader put it.

Carr was fingered as the man behind Australia's decision to abstain at the controversial UN vote in defiance of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who wanted to oppose the motion to upgrade Palestine’s status.

Carr, a founder in 1977 of Labor Friends of Israel, has also recently been critical of Israel’s settlements, labeling them as “illegal” in a joint statement last month with Britain’s William Hague.

An Israeli newspaper shows a photo of Ben Zygier, believed to be Israel's 'Prisoner X.'Credit: AP
A woman with an Australian newspaper showing the front page story of Ben Zygier in this photo illustration taken in Sydney on February 14, 2013.Credit: AFP

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