Australia’s leading Jewish community organisation has broken a week-long silence on the case of the death of Australian-Israel dual national Ben Zygier.
In a statement issued today, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry welcomed announcements by the Australian and Israeli governments of inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the death dual Israeli and Australian national Ben Zygier, who died while in high-security custody in Israel in December 2010.
”We welcome the fact that the Israeli Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Subcommittee for Intelligence and the Israeli State Attorney’s office, part of the Ministry of Justice, have both announced that they will be conducting investigations into the circumstances surrounding Ben Zygier’s death,” Executive Council President Dr Danny Lamm said in a written statement.
”We also welcome the inquiries being undertaken by Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the fact that he has invited the Israeli authorities to have an input into those inquiries.”
Australian Jewish community leaders have been reluctant to speak publicly about the death in Mr Zygier, a former Melbourne lawyer, which was disclosed by ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent program last week.
Mr Zygier, who reportedly served with the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad, was arrested in Israel in February 2010 and died in prison 10 months later.
Jewish community sources told Fairfax Media that hesitation in making public comment arose from respect for Mr Zygier’s family which, apart from a brief expression of loss and grief to the Australian Financial Review, has not spoken publicly, and because community leaders had no information on the case other than what had been reported in the media.
However, the announcements by Senator Carr of an internal inquiry by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade into the consular aspects of Mr Zygier’s case and the Israeli government and parliamentary investigations provided an appropriate opportunity for comment.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has said he saw no reason for any inquiry into the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s involvement in Mr Zygier’s case.
It has been reported that ASIO was investigating Mr Zygier’s alleged involvement in the use of Australian passports to provide cover for Israeli intelligence operations and that ASIO tipped off a Fairfax journalist who contacted Mr Zygier shortly before he was arrested by Israeli security authorities.
Reportedly charged with ”national security”-related offences, Mr Zygier was not tried or convicted of any offence before his death.
”We look forward to the official inquiries publishing concrete information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ben Zygier in the hope that it will put further rumour and speculation to rest and bring some comfort to his still-grieving family and friends,” Dr Lamm said.
Australian Jewish community leaders were privately highly critical of what they considered to be an overreaction by former prime minister Kevin Rudd and then foreign minister Stephen Smith to allegations that Israeli intelligence used Australian passports in an operation to assassinate a militant Hamas leader in Dubai in January 2010.
Following the Government’s decision to expel a senior Israeli intelligence officer from Israel’s embassy in Canberra in May 2010, Mr Rudd and Mr Smith attempted to defuse tension by inviting six Jewish community representatives, including then Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot, for discussions at a private kosher dinner at The Lodge. The meeting was also attended by Labor MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus.
It is believed that no mention of Mr Zygier’s arrest and detention was made at this gathering.
”None of us knew anything about [the Zygier case], and neither the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister said anything about it,” one of the community representatives who attended the meeting told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
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