Australian Jews' internal conflict
Analysis: Australian Jewish community is caught between its traditional support for Israel and the criticism over the aggressive treatment Ben Zygier was subject to in Israeli prison.
SYDNEY – The Jewish community in Australia is one of the warmest and most active communities in favor of Israel.
Despite the fact that an Israeli prime minister has never bothered visiting the country, the community incessantly donates every year to educational, cultural and medical enterprises in Israel.
In the past week, in random and miserable timing, two reports published here hit the community in its underbelly. The first: The "Four Corners" investigative journalism television program published defamation about alleged cases of abuse by Israelis against Palestinian children, as well as mass arrests, including of five-year-olds, and serious torture with electric shocks. For the Jews here, such a publication is experienced as harsh and false criticism, which is also directed at them.
The second blow: The publication of segments from the book "Prisoner X" by Rafael Epstein,
which will be published in several days and explores the story of Mossad agent Ben Zygier, who was arrested on serious espionage charges and committed suicide in the Israeli prison.
The "Prisoner X"
affair, which broke exactly a year ago, put Australia's Jews in a sort of a conflict: On the one hand, the traditional support for Israel and its organizations, including the Mossad and Shin Bet of course. On the other hand, the solidarity with Zygier and his parents, who are active in the Melbourne community, and the criticism that the aggressive treatment Zygier was subject to from his investigators and in his prison cell may have played a part in his decision to take his own life.
Epstein's book touches on Zygier's personal story, as a member of that community: His studies in the Jewish school, joining the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, the seminar in Jerusalem, and finally his decision to make aliyah and attempt to become more Israeli than the Israelis.
The book presents Zygier's actions as a sort of momentary blunder, an error in a conversation with a friend at university – very different from what has been published on the affair so far and completely different from the indictment filed against him, which the Shin Bet claims Zygier confessed to in its entirety.
At the end of the day, at the heart of the affair is the story of a person for whom the gap between the way he described himself to his family and friends and the grim reality became intolerable. When that happened, he engages in a series of desperate acts in order to save himself and his position – a very Jewish tragedy.
And another thing: Some of the community members I have spoken to brought into focus an amazing detail from the affair: The story of his recruitment to the Mossad, his arrest by the Shin Bet and his suicide at the Ayalon Prison was known to many in the community in real time, as early as 2011. Nonetheless, and out of the understanding that these are issues related to Israel's security, they kept it a complete secret and did not leak the story to the press.
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