In my 3rd post in this series, I discussed two aspects of the Prisoner X case which I felt were worth raising. The other two, bigger picture issues, I'd intended to canvass will be the subject of this post.
The first concerns the extraordinary silence of Australia's Jewish community when one of their own, from a prominent Melbourne Zionist family no less, came to grief whilst in Israeli hands: "Few in the local Jewish community have spoken publicly about Mr Zygier's death - more than a dozen organisations and individuals contacted on Thursday by Fairfax Media offered no comment - but the silence does not surprise Mr Greener, who put it down to a modest Malvern family's simple desire for privacy." (We want justice for Ben Zygier, family friend says, Konrad Marshall, Sydney Morning Herald, 14/2/13)
The question arises: Is this closing of ranks simply a sign of respect for the privacy of the Zygier family or is something more tribal involved? With around 80% of Australian Jews calling themselves Zionists, it is impossible not to speculate whether some kind of totalitarian groupthink, in this case a rallying around the - Isaeli - flag, right or wrong, is at work.
The following February 15 Fran Kelly interview with Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program gives credence to this view. To describe it as gruelling is to indulge in understatement. Chester's response to Kelly's generally clueless questions resembles nothing so much as the inky discharge of a squid as it attempts to evade a predator, even if, in this case, one without teeth. My comments in square brackets:
Fran Kelly: Well thousands of Australian Jews travel to Israel every year for holidays, to study, to work, even to serve in the Israeli Defence Force, but none... have had a tragic experience like this. Philip Chester is the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia which funds and organises travel to Israel, especially for young people. His organisation has actually helped more than 10,000 Australian Jews to emigrate permanently to Israel. Philip Chester, I know you're unaware of the details of this case but generally would you be surprised to learn that Australians you send to Israel could be recruited by Mossad as spies? [Kelly's naivete is astonishing. If Zionist leaders such as Chester, a one-time Betar youth movement leader, have no qualms whatever about young Australian Jews joining the so-called Israel Defence Forces (IDF), why would they cavil at them moving into the other sectors of Israel's state security apparatus?]
Philip Chester: Fran, I don't really have any knowledge about recruitment of any Australians to Israeli agencies. [I know nothing.] It's not something we're involved in or that anyone discusses with us or that we make any enquiries in relation to. We facilitate young, middle-aged and older people, families, youngsters, single people to, once they make the decision that they want to move to Israel and live there, help them do that. Many of them, if they're of the right age, need to do some military service... in Israel but that's when our involvement ends and they serve the country if required and then go on with their productive lives hopefully.
FK: Since the tragic circumstances surrounding Ben Zygier's death have become public we've been hearing from spies and spy agencies and people associated with them that Australians and New Zealanders are particularly attractive recruits for Mossad because our passports are so widely accepted. An Australian passport allows Israeli spies to travel throughout the Middle East without attracting suspicion. What's your advice... to Australian Jews who go to Israel if they are approached by Mossad or are recruited in this way?
PC: Well, Fran, obviously I don't represent or have any involvement in the security agencies in Israel or in Australia for that matter so it's not something we dispense advice on or something we're involved in or have any discussions with anybody on. Obviously, every person has to be cognisant of the laws of Israel, and Australia if they're still an Australian citizen, and be aware of the implications of... if there was ever a breach of those laws, but I'm not in the business of giving advice on issues like that. We haven't been involved in any such cases or had any matters raised with us that we needed to discuss with anybody. [I know nothing.]
FK: I am not even suggesting for a moment that you have any involvement in this at all but it's very much an issue in discussion now, and even now Fairfax papers are reporting that ASIO is investigating 3 Australians who were recruited. I wonder what your reaction to that is, and I suppose I'm asking you in this context, in this debate that's currently around, has anyone implied to you at all that they have been contacted by Mossad?
PC: No. No one has implied or said anything to me or, I believe, to our organisation about that. Of course, these allegations of which there are many flying around at the moment about passports or recruitment or the involvement of agencies. [Australian passports? What Australian passports?] As far as I understand they do not have any substantiation associated with them at the moment. I assume there will be further inquiries and investigations in relation to that but really there's nothing I can comment on that has been put to me in any factual sense about any person being approached or any discussion with them or any Australian about the use of their passports... [I know nothing.] As I said before, if anyone is involved in a breach of Australian law, that's a serious matter that obviously the Australian government needs to enquire about and investigate. That's perfectly appropriate, but no, I'm not aware [of] or have had any such matters drawn to my or my organisation's attention. [I know nothing.]
FK: Do you think it's a confusing line or can you see why it'd be confusing for young Australian Jews in particular who may be spending time in Israel? At what point does loyalty to Israel become disloyalty to Australia? Where is the line that shouldn't be crossed?
PC: Well I don't... when an Australian decides to move to another country... as you said earlier a number of Australian Jews have because they feel an affinity to Israel and people from other communities move to other countries for various reasons. It happens all the time, the movement of people throughout the world. [So Australian Jews who migrate to Israel because they're indoctrinated into believing that it's their divine right to do so while the country's ethnically-cleansed indigenous population cannot return to their homeland for fear of a bullet in the brain are the equivalent of other Australians visiting the country they or their parents were born in?] When they make that decision, they decide to make Israel their home, I don't believe for a moment they abandon their love and affinity with Australia. Australia is a wonderful country where Jews thrived and I believe have made a wonderful contribution as well and so I don't think any issue of dual loyalty arises for Australian Jews when they move to Israel They settle into their new country that's their new home but this doesn't mean any form of disloyalty in relation to Australia. They come back often. Of course, they still have families here and they maintain a very strong and warm relationship and we see them coming back and forth all the time and that's our impression and experience.
FK: The difficulty here I guess is it does mean they're disloyal to Australia if they become spies. If, as is alleged in the case of Ben Zygier, they come home to register a false name, get a new false passport. I mean the Age is now reporting that Ben Zygier had been in contact with Australian intelligence agencies and may have been prepared to blow the whistle on the misuse of Australian passports, because we do know for a fact, this is not just rumour, that Australian passports were used by Israeli agents in the assassination of a Palestinian militant, the Hamas official in Dubai.
PC: Fran, there are, as you're highlighting, there are lots of stories flying around at the moment [Just vicious rumours, Fran!] that I can't substantiate or...
FK (forcefully): That's not a story though. At the time the Australian government registered the strongest possible complaint about that. Our foreign minister at the time, Stephen Smith, said there was no doubt our passports had been misused.
PC: Yes, yes, I remember the...the...the incident very well. There was a lot of controversy surrounding it [Notice how, when a Zionist is confroned with a factual truth, he simply brands it 'controversisl'?] and, as I said before, if any Australian at any time misuses his Australian passport I understand that's a breach of Australian law and that's a serious matter that the authorities need to deal with but I don't for a minute want your listeners to believe that when we send Australians to live in Israel that there's an industry that exists of harvesting or using passports in any inappropriate or illegal way. [Oh yes there is! See my 4/3/10 post Removing the 'I' from CIA.] As I said, it's not something I have any personal experience of or have ever heard anyone discuss [I know nothing.], so the issues that occurred 2010 and that are being alleged now I can't... I have no sense of the magnitude, of how many people are involved, if anybody, but as I said before, if there are, the Australian authorities should be dealing with it. It's perfectly appropriate.
FK: And I accept... as I said, I'm not trying to impute that at all, that you have any knowledge of this but given these 2 incidences and given the tragic circumstance and the inappropriate circumstances surrounding it all, it would seem... I wonder in the future now as president of the ZFA, a group that does coordinate, help, support and fund young Australians to either move or certainly travel to Israel, whether you will be at pains to talk to these young people before they go about this issue.
PC: Well, it's not... I don't, we don't have a manifest we hand out which says, you know, don't do this, don't do that, be aware of this, don't worry about that. If... um... we would... I'll certainly say to any person moving to Israel, please be aware of all the laws of Israel, of course, and certainly Australia. We would if this came... if someone wanted to discuss this or the issue arose we'd certainly reinforce the fact that, if they remain Australian citizens, they continue to have obligations under the laws of Australia and these have to be taken very seriously.
FK: And are you, as president of the ZFA, disappointed in the Israeli authorities, the Israeli government, that gave the Australian government and the family of Ben Zygier very little information about what was happening to Ben Zygier, that the Australian government was never really told the nature of the accusations against him, the information was very scant and came only through back channels, not official, formal channels like the ambassador, does that disappoint you, that behaviour?
PC: Fran, I don't think anyone knows what communications actually took place, what was discussed, what was coming and to where. I saw that the foreign minister originally thought there'd been no communication with the Australian government in relation to Prisoner X. They retracted that last week when it became evident that there had been some comments.
FK: But only through the intelligence channels.
PC: Well, I can't sit here and answer how valid and effective those communications were. Same with the family. I don't know exactly what the family was or was not told. It's just complete speculation. [I know nothing.] What I can say, Fran, is the Zygier family are well regarded and active members of the Jewish community, that what happened to their young son was a tragedy. We're very sad about it for them and for our community. That's obviously something which has upset us greatly, but everything that surrounds it, communications, what actually happened to Ben, is just speculation that I can't add to. [I know nothing.]
The final aspect of the Prisoner X case that concerns me, and one which sheds a glaring light on Australian corporate media values and culture, is the huge discrepancy in the Australian media's treatment of Jewish as opposed to Arab deaths. It is impossible to believe that a Palestinian-Australian who fell foul of the Israelis in some way or other would receive anywhere near the same level of attention or concern. Indeed, as likely as not, they would not even be accorded the presumption of innocence. This is racism, pure and simple.