'Australia Jewish community mum on Zygier'

Family of immigrant to Israel who apparently committed suicide in Israeli jail declines to comment on new report on his death.

February 13, 2013 14:57
2 minute read.
Ben Zygier at his wedding, captured from an image broadcast by ABC News.

Ben Zygier at his wedding 370. (photo credit: ABC Screenshot)


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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 true.

“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 son’s death.

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 seeking one.”

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.

The newspaper noted that some Australian diplomatic personnel were aware of Zygier’s incarceration in Israel.

Carr has called for an inquiry into the matter.

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