Australia’s Jewish community is reportedly staying tight-lipped in the wake of
claims that an unnamed prisoner who apparently committed suicide in an Israeli
jail was an immigrant from Melbourne named Ben Zygier.
The ABC news
program said that Zygier, who called himself Ben Alon in Israel, had been
recruited by the Mossad some 10 years ago, not long after he made aliya. At some
point he was reportedly imprisoned at the high-security Ayalon Prison, where he
is said to have hanged himself in late 2010.
According to the Australian
Jewish News, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and the Executive
Council of Australian Jewry have all declined to comment on the story. The same
is true of the Zygier family, the AJN said.
In reply to queries from The
Jerusalem Post, the Zionist Federation of Australia said “we won’t surprise
you... but no comment.”
Sam Tatarka of the Zionist Council of Victoria
likewise declined to discuss the issue, telling the Post that “the ZCV has no
comment to make.”
“Mr. Zygier’s uncle said today on the radio [that] this
is a family tragedy and there is nothing more to say.”
Speaking with ABC
radio on Wednesday morning, the deceased’s uncle Willy Zygier said that he “saw
that show last night [and] I have no idea what is true and what isn’t
“All I know is there is a family tragedy, every suicide is a family
tragedy. Ben’s parents are in mourning. I don’t know if they will talk. I am a
humble musician. I don’t know anything.”
The media has extensively
reported that Ben Zygier is the son of Geoffrey Zygier, the executive director
of the Victoria Jewish Community Council and one of the heads of the Melbourne
Jewish Community. Australian newspaper The Standard reported that a spokesman
for Geoffrey Zygier said that he and his family would not be discussing their
The family’s spokesman was quoted as saying that “He [the
father] will not be speaking to the media at this difficult time.” Jeremy
Stowe-Linder, the principal of Bialik College in Australia, where Ben Zygier had
studied, told The Standard that “it is a very sad incident that has happened and
the family are remembered very positively by the school community.” The Age
reported Wednesday that Zygier’s death in 2010 triggered more than a dozen
condolence notices in the Australian Jewish News, including from major Jewish
organizations in Australia.
According to The Age, none of these
organizations, which include the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the
Jewish Holocaust Center, and the National Council of Jewish Women were willing
to comment on the piece.
Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem met with
Australian opposition leader Julie Bishop on Wednesday to discuss the matter of
Zygier’s incarceration and death.
Bishop was quoted by Australian ABC
television as saying, prior to the meeting, that “If there are security
considerations I can understand it. But if it’s just about embarrassing a
government agency, then that certainly requires an explanation and I’ll be
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr told the
Australian Associated Press that “some officers of the department were in fact
aware of his detention,” according to a report in The Australian.
newspaper noted that some Australian diplomatic personnel were aware of Zygier’s
incarceration in Israel.
Carr has called for an inquiry into the matter.