Fran Kelly: Can you see why it'd be confusing for young Australian Jews who may be spending time in Israel? At what point does loyalty to Israel become disloyalty to Australia?
Philip Chester (Zionist Federation of Australia): I don't think any issue of dual loyalty arises for Australian Jews when they move to Israel.
(See my 17/2/13 post Prisoner X 5)
I takes me hat off to this magnificent 16 February post from Adam Keller's blog Crazy Country. Called From Prisoner X to Lord Montagu, Keller follows Ben Zygier's trail all the way back to 1917, connecting dots most mainstream journalists haven't even heard of:
"No court issued a gag order on the detention of Samer al-Issawi.* The information was freely available, and anyone who wanted to could have published all the facts: Samer al-Issawi, a resident of Isawiya in East Jerusalem, was placed last July in Administrative Detention without trial and imprisoned in the Ramle Prison (yes, the same prison which this week made it into the headlines for other reasons). He began a hunger strike which has already passed the 200 days' mark, lost 35 kilograms and suffered severe damage to his kidneys. A few days ago he stopped drinking the vitamins and few nutritional supplements which had kept him alive until now. All this information was completely open to publication - everything except the charges against Issawi, which were contained only in 'secret evidence' presented to the judge who extended his detention and of which Issawi himself was not told. There was no problem in publishing it - but reporters and editors in Israel's newspapers and electronic media just did not think it of interest to their readers and listeners. Only this weekend, when the deteriorating condition of Samer al-Issawi precipitated a series of demonstrations across the West Bank and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers, a few references cropped up in the media - and even then, in a minimal way. Had Ben Zygier been a Palestinian, even now nobody would have heard of him.
"So what really happened in this affair, of which only a select few knew 4 days ago, and which has now captured the headlines in Israel, Australia and around the world?
"How it started is well known: a young Jew raised in a distinguished Melbourne family, taking his Zionism seriously, makes aliya, comes to live in Israel and marries here. He enters the country's spy service, Mossad, and undertakes a series of mysterious tasks while still retaining his Australian citizenship. In fact, much of his value to Mossad consisted of his ability to carry (or lend to others) a genuine Australian passport which would pass the closest security, and allow him to freely enter countries barred to carriers of an Israeli passport. And indeed, to visit and study in Australia where his family live.
"The middle of the story is still mostly hidden. In early 2010, unknown agents assassinated a senior Palestinian in the Emirate of Dubai. The assassins not only failed to disappear without a trace, but left a spectacular trail; abundant CCTV photos, names in forged Australian (and other) passports, and a series of clues pointing to Mossad and the State of Israel. But what exactly was the connection to Ben Zygier, the Australian Jew who migrated to Israel and made his passport available for Israel's daring espionage operations?
"And the end? Most of it is by now clear. A secret trial, a secret detention in a well-guarded isolation cell in Ramle Prison, gag orders to hide every scrap of information from the public, serious charges that could have kept him in that secret cell for many, many years, and a plea bargain which offered some leniency but still many years in jail, a difficult choice between two harsh options. And then, suicide in custody, in a cell with 4 surveillance cameras. If it was suicide.
"But what exactly did happen in the middle? What did he do, or plan to do? Shalom Yerushalmi published in Ma'ariv what appears to me a message direct from Mossad: 'Zygier, it is said, was holding a smoking gun. Had he not been stopped, he would have caused great damage. No one in Mossad wanted him to commit suicide in prison but after he did so none of them went into mourning.' And on TV, the veteran Ron Ben-Yishai pointed an accusing finger at the Australian security service: 'They are the ones who got Zygier into trouble.' But how, exactly.
"A hypothesis, not based on any first hand information: At some time, late January or early February, Australian security services confronted Zygier, an Australian citizen who travelled a lot on an Australian passport, and demanded that he tell them what he knew about the use to which Israel was putting Australian passports - in ways which might be contrary to Australian national interests - as Australian tourists and business people were increasingly being suspected of being Israeli spies.
"If this is what happened, Zygier could not have gotten out of it well, do what he may. Had he provided the information, he would have been considered a traitor under Israeli law. Had he refused, he would have been considered a traitor under Australian law. In short, he would have experienced that nightmare of Australian, US and other Jews, the charge of dual loyalty. Did Israel have the moral right to place Ben Zygier, an Australian Jew, in such an impossible situation? Did Israel, 30 years before, have the moral right to appeal to Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew, and convince him that, as a Jew, he owed to Israel a loyalty surpassing that which he owed to the United States? How many Jews, in how many countries, have paid a direct and indirect price for the actions and policies of Israel?
"In July 1994, an explosive charge was detonated in a Jewish community centre in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, and 85 people were killed. Although unsolved, this bombing is considered to have been an act of revenge for Israel's assassination of Hezbollah leader Abbas Musawi. Argentinian Jews, unconnected with Israel's wars in south Lebanon, were selected as easy targets for revenge against the 'Jewish State'. This affair continues to resound in Argentina's politics, coming up again and again. A few weeks ago, the Argentinian government decided to initiate an international investigation into the bombing involving the Iranian government, prompting the Israeli government to lodge a strong protest with the Argentinians. The Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who, perhaps not coincidentally, is himself Jewish, summoned the Israeli ambassador to lodge a protest at the Israeli protest and the Israeli government's interference in the way in which the government of Argentina has chosen to deal with the murder of its citizens. As reported at the time: 'The Argentinian foreign minister was so upset that he... cut the Israeli ambassador off again and again: 'Israel has no right to ask for explanations, we are a sovereign state... Israel doesn't speak for all Jews. Those Jews who wanted Israel to represent them went to Israel and became Israeli citizens. Jews who live in Argentina are Argentinian citizens. The bombing was against Argentina, and Israel's desire to be involved in the matter only gives ammunition to anti-Semites who accuse Jews of dual loyalty'.'
"In 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, promising to 'view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.' In the prolonged deliberations held by the British cabinet before this declaration was issued, Lord Edwin Montagu, the only Jewish minister in the British government at the time, expressed his reservations and strong opposition to the planned declaration: 'I assume that it means that Mahommedans and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews hereafter will be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine'. He expressed his concern that a dual loyalty' would be created among the Jews of the world - loyalty to the governments in their countries of residence vs. loyalty to their national home in Palestine - and that it would finally give anti-Semites a pretext to undermine the position of Jews in Britain and other countries, and expel them, against their will, to their 'National Home'. To appease Lord Montagu and other opponents of the declaration, a clear reservation was added its text. The establishment of a National Home was conditional on 'it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country'.
"Ninety-six years later, the National Home has become a fact, and has established the most powerful army in the Middle East as well as an intelligence network spanning the globe. In light of this, it would be very difficult to argue that what was 'clearly understood' in 1917 has indeed been complied with, or that there is no basis to the apprehensions of Lord Montagu."
[*See my 12/1/13 post Another First for Israel's Cutting Edge Thuggery.]