"Ben Zygier was a zealot. Intelligent, restless, he dreamt of working for Mossad. His dream ultimately killed him." So runs the blurb for Jason Koutsoukis' feature article, How life of spy Ben Zygier unravelled in the Sydney Morning Herald of March 25.
Koutsoukis' portrait of Zygier is remarkably accommodating of the young man's Zionist fantasies, with Zygier described as "a passionate Zionist, a young man who had so aspired to a life of heroism" and as "ready to defend Israel against its enemies, no matter what the cost."
His sketch of Zygier's life journey - son of a prominent Melbourne Zionist, graduate of Melbourne's Bialik College*, member of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, kibbutznik (1995), and eventual Israeli citizen (2003) - is nowhere the occasion for the raising of an editorial eyebrow. All, or so Koutsoukis' treatment of his subject suggests, is as it should be for a young Australian Jew. One simply can not imagine a young Arab-Australian, motivated by a burning desire to defend his people in Gaza or Lebanon, being handled with such kid gloves.
Likewise Koutsoukis' tolerance of Zionist dogma. He blithely refers to Australia's Jewish community as "diaspora Jews," cluelessly giving currency to the Zionist notion that Jews such as the Zygiers, who live outside Israel, are somehow in exile from their real, Jewish homeland.
Equally problematic is Koutsoukis' characterisation of Israel as a "tiny strip of a nation surrounded only by countries either overtly or surreptitiously hostile to its existence." Anyone who's taken the trouble to acquaint himself with the history of this tiny strip of land will have no trouble in tracing this hostility back to imperial Britain's imposition of a European settler-colonial movement on an unwilling indigenous population. Apparently, it's too much to expect a little historical context here.
Then there's Koutsoukis' description of Mossad as "engaged in a furious shadow war against [Israel's] enemies." Now I'd always thought of wars as a matter of tit for tat, but all Koutsoukis can come up with is Israeli 'tat': "Mossad's most recent exploits include the car-bomb assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in 2008, the January 2010 killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai and at least 5 Iranian nuclear activists." God forbid any suggestion that Mossad is really little more than a glorified death squad.
There is, of course, another way of looking at the story of Ben Zygier, and that is as a case study in Zionist indoctrination. As one who appears to have taken the Mossad mystique more seriously than most, Ben Zygier may be seen as merely an extreme example of what can go wrong when a young Jew, whether in Israel or elsewhere, is raised on the Kool-Aid of Zionist ideology and fairy tales.
As it happens, Israel's preeminent critical journalist, Gideon Levy, has relieved me of the need to spell it out, having done a superb job, under the heading Hating Arabs is Netanyahu's gift to Israelis (Haaretz 7/3/13), of explaining just what it is that goes into the making of a young Israeli today. One need only extrapolate in Zygier's case. (NB: While Levy focuses on the current Israeli prime minister, the racism at the core of Israeli apartheid is as old as the Zionist movement itself and its distorting effect on all who swallow the Zionist narrative uncritically can be profound.):
"Benjamin Netanyahu's children attacked an Arab cleaning man on the seaside promenade in Tel Aviv and caused him serious injuries. They attacked an Arab waiter in a Tel Aviv restaurant with chairs and their fists. They attacked an Arab from Upper Nazareth at the shore of Lake Kinneret because they heard him speaking Arabic. Netanyahu's children waved hate-filled signs against Muslim players of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team and set fire to its club house. Netanyahu's children attacked an Arab woman on a Jerusalem light rail train just because she was an Arab. All these events took place in Israel within a few days. The attackers were not of course the prime minister's biological children, but they were all the creation of his spirit, students of his views and pupils of his government's policies. These Israeli skinheads are the fruits of the nationalistic and racist atmosphere that has grown greatly in recent years, the Netanyahu years.
"Such a streak of anti-Arab violence is not just a coincidence of course. So many of these kinds of violent acts in such a short time never happened here before. Their source is planted deep within the Israeli experience that Likud-led government's have acted to nurture. A Jewish child in Israel grows up with the feeling he is a member of the chosen people, one who is allowed to do almost anything. He learns that only his people have rights to this land. This child knows his country must be Jewish, and only Jewish. During the Netanyahu years the child grew up with a feeling of continual danger, usually exaggerated and hollow. He hears all day long of the dangers lying in wait for him, all at the hands of Arabs and Muslims. He learns he is a member of the people who are always the greatest victims, there are no other victims. There are those who repeat for him that the Arabs are not people like he is, it is doubtful whether they are human beings at all; just suspicious objects, terrorists. They all want to throw him into the sea, stab him, plant a bomb, shoot a Qassam rocket at him or blow themselves up next to him. The child learns that Israel's Arab citizens are a cancer, a stab in the back of the nation and a fifth column; and it is necessary to strip them of all their remnants of rights. He learns that Israel 'gives' the Arabs too much.
"He sees alongside the road a fancy house in an Arab village and tells himself: Look at that. He hears Arab members of Knesset and tells himself: Look at us, what a democracy! He sees a veiled woman or hears someone speaking Arabic and knows this means danger. He doesn't even think to compare the treatment of Jews in Europe in the 1930s to the treatment of Arabs in Israel. He has never met an Arab Israeli for a real conversation, and there is absolutely no chance of that with a Palestinian from the territories.
"This child knows nothing about the Nakba, except that it is an invention of Israel-haters and the very mention of it is treason. Of the hundreds of villages that were destroyed and the fate of their hundreds of thousands of residents, some of whom still live in Israel, torn away from their families, banished from their lands and villages - he knows nothing at all and wants to know nothing. He has no idea what it means to be an Arab child his age in Israel who hears the prime minister of both of them describe the Arab child as a demographic threat. The Jewish child has never heard a single good word from the prime minister on a 5th of the citizens of his country, only condemnation, threats, exclusion and danger. All this he learned in even more forceful terms in recent years, the latest Likud years."
[*For Bialik College see my 21/6/12 post Mystery Man.]