The ten year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq will leave the media agenda now. It should not. The country we invaded and occupied remains broken. I was interviewed this morning by New Zealand’s Radio Live about the conflict (starting at 19.52).
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.
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.
Relations between Australia and Israel remain tense after the Foreign Minister Bob Carr called in Israel’s ambassador on Tuesday, to convey strong concern over plans to expand settlements on Palestinian land.
Carr told the ambassador that building new settlements threatens the viability of a two-state solution.
Israel announced the plan just a day after the historic vote to give Palestinians observer status at the UN.
In that vote, Australia abstained, which was viewed as a shift away from always supporting Israel on the international stage.
So why is the Gillard government taking a different approach to Israel and will it have any lasting impact?
2SER’s Mark Robinson spoke with journalist and author Antony Loewenstein.
I was interviewed this week by 3CR’s Different, Like Us radio program about the recent UN vote on Palestine and the possibility of taking Israel to the International Criminal Court:
I was recently interviewed on Sydney’s 2SER radio program, The Third Degree:
Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake in January 2010, and reconstruction efforts have been painstakingly slow – hampered by other storms such as hurricane Isaac in August, and the recent hurricane Sandy, resulting in much loss of life and pushing the already emergency situation of people living in makeshift arrangements to an even more dire level. Independent journalist Antony Loewenstein has recently returned from Haiti, a trip that will form part of a book and documentary on disaster capitalism. In conversation with the Third Degree, talking disaster capitalism.
I was interviewed a few days by the Australian national current affairs program, The Wire:
Israel’s latest strike on Gaza and assassination of Hamas military leader Amas Jabaari should be seen as traditional aggressive pre-election behaviour says commentator Antony Loewenstein. He says Egypt’s new regime and its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood is also making Israel nervous. There are fears that a well-armed Israel could continue and escalate the violence, particularly in the light of their opposition to Palestine’s bid for recognition by the UN