I was interviewed by ABC AM Radio this morning (which has already generated some hate mail, so thank you Australian Jewry):
ELIZABETH JACKSON: The revelation this week by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program that Melbourne man Ben Zygier was Israel’s “prisoner X” have thrown light on some of the most secretive workings of the Jewish state.
There are many perplexing elements to this story; one of them is the deafening silence.
Silence and gag orders from Israel, silence from the Australian Jewish community, and perhaps most perplexing of all, silence from Ben Zygier’s family.
Co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Antony Loewenstein, says he believes the Jewish community in Australia is embarrassed.
The journalist says the case involving Ben Zygier should be a wake-up call to the community in Melbourne and Sydney to re-examine the way young Jewish youths are educated at religious schools in Australia.
He says Australian Jews need to re-think the wisdom of a culture which encourages young men and women to join the Israeli military.
ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Well I think the Jewish community in Australia has taken the position of complete lockdown, where there has basically been virtually no comment about the details of the case.
There’s been virtually no comment about the relationship between the Jewish establishment in Australia and the Israeli government, and indeed Mossad, and indeed Israeli intelligence and the Israeli embassy.
There’ve been a few very vague comments, there’s been a few denials, there’s been a few statements suggesting that we don’t know all the information and therefore we can’t comment.
So overall, on two levels: one, clearly the family is grieving for a lost son – understandable, completely. But the broader question I think is the role the Jewish community in Sydney and Melbourne particularly – the biggest communities in the country – have towards Israel. And the facilitation often that they use of encouraging from a young age Jews to not just be involved with Israel, visit Israel, incredibly often fight with the IDF (Israeli Defence Force), which is something that the Australian Government, in my view should not be tolerating but does, and indeed for that matter sometimes joining Mossad.
Now this is obviously a murky world, but that happens not that uncommonly, and I think a lot of Australians might not be aware of that.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: So what are your observations about the way that Jewish institutions, and perhaps it even happens in the synagogues, I don’t know – but how do they facilitate this kind of mentality?
ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: It starts at a relatively young age. Not all Jews, but quite a few. It’s something pretty common, whether you’re religious or my family was pretty liberal, quite progressive.
Israel is not the only focus of that, of course, but it’s certainly part of it – that you’re expected and grown up to support Israel in a way that in my view is unhealthy, which is uncritical. The occupation of Palestine doesn’t really exist.
And many Jews are sent to Israel, often after school, for a year or six months or whatever. Not that many Jews are moving to Israel – some do. There’s definitely an encouragement to do so – in other words, to be the best kind of Jew you can be, so the thinking goes, some people argue the only way you can do that is to go to Israel and live there.
If you’re a young Jew, you’re likely to have to do military service, it’s compulsory in Israel for three years normally. And you potentially – although this is obviously far less people – could be recruited by Mossad.
Now this sort of stuff I’m not saying is regularly discussed openly in synagogues in Sydney or Melbourne – it’s not. But the reality of what moving to Israel might involve, and I think the lack of conversation within the Jewish Zionist establishment about what actually being a so-called ‘good Jew’ means if you sign up for Mossad.
And the role of Mossad in the Middle East is pretty known, it’s quite legendary. But the reality of what Mossad does – in the last few years there have been numerous allegations which have been backed up by a great deal of evidence that, for example, Mossad has been behind the murder, the illegal murder, of Iranian scientists in Iran, nuclear scientists. There was a hit a few years ago of a Hamas operative in Dubai, which was captured on CCTV (Closed Circuit TV).
In the Jewish community itself, those acts are not seen as controversial. They are seen as something as what Israel has to do to survive, they’re justified, they’re defended. In other words, if there’s an Australian Jew who was involved in that, and if this gentleman was, it would not be seen as a problem ethically or legally, when in fact frankly it should be.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Journalist and co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Antony Loewenstein.