ABC Radio’s World Today on Australian Israel lobby blindness

I was interviewed this morning by ABC Radio’s World Today:

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the latest from Israel on prisoner X.

The Israeli parliament is planning to carry out what it calls an “intensive” inquiry into the death of the Australian-Israeli who was found dead in a secret prison near Tel Aviv in 2010.

The Israeli authorities have confirmed that 34-year-old Ben Zygier was prisoner X but it is still only speculation that he was also a spy for Mossad.

Lindy Kerin has our report.

LINDY KERIN: A week after the story broke on the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program, the mystery surrounding the case of Ben Zygier continues.

The 34-year-old was found hanged in a specially designed, suicide proof cell. After his death, Israel imposed a total media ban on the case but was forced to ease the restrictions after the story gained international headlines.

Today a statement by the Israel parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee said:

ISRAELI PARLIAMENT’S STATEMENT (voiceover): We’ve decided to conduct an intensive examination of all aspects of the incident involving the prisoner found dead in his prison cell in December 2010.

LINDY KERIN: News of the parliamentary inquiry follows calls by the prime minister for restraint from those seeking answers over the case of prisoner X

Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly back the Israeli security forces and has warned that shining too much light on intelligence activities could jeopardise national security.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (translation): I completely trust the security forces of the state of Israel. They are acting with endless devotion and commitment in order to enable us to live in this country. I also completely trust the law authorities in the state of Israel.

LINDY KERIN: As well as the Israeli parliament investigation, Australia will also prepare a report on the Ben Zygier case.

Journalist and Co. founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Antony Loewenstein, is a well known critic of the Israeli government. He’s worried the inquiry will whitewash the case.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: History shows unfortunately that Israel is an incredibly opaque society when it comes to these kind of investigations, the fact that the government itself in other words is investigating itself is highly problematic for self evident reason, and in fact it’s a society in Israel over many, many years, over many, many cases, not least in relation to Palestinians who are routinely held in jail and tortured and many other horrible crimes that the Israeli state often refuses to be transparent about that.

So why this would be any different – the only way this could be different is if there is serious pressure from outside forces and there’s not much indication that the Australian Government’s going to put much if any pressure on the Israeli government to do so because of our unhealthily close relationship with the Jewish state.

LINDY KERIN: The World Today has contacted many organisations for comment including the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, and the Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, but nobody wanted to talk about the case.

The president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Nina Bassat, responded to our request saying “The family of Ben Zygier is grieving and have clearly expressed their desire to do so in private. I intend to respect their feelings and do not propose to add to their pain by making any comment.”

LINDY KERIN: Antony Loewenstein says he’s not surprised the community is reluctant to talk.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: The Jewish community and the establishment and the Zionist lobby likes to be in lock-step with the Israeli government. In other words the Israeli lobby in Australia is not an independent bodies, they’re simply a propaganda for the Jewish state.

So when a case like this happens, we don’t know all the facts, no-one knows all the facts, and rather than coming out and saying something which they fear will embarrass Israel, they’d rather say nothing at all.

But of course, the effect of that is that it shows to the wider community, who is not Jewish, obviously the vast majority of the Australian population, the Jewish establishment is incapable or unwilling of actually questioning its master so to speak, which is Tel Aviv and the government in Israel.

And I think that’s very unhealthy for the Jewish community and it’s a shame and quite revealing that very, very few, in fact, if any members, of the establishment in the Jewish community are willing to say anything of note apart from platitudes.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Antony Loewenstein from the Independent Australian Jewish Voices group, speaking to Lindy Kerin.

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