Walla reports (Hebrew) that Israel’s security service devised an elaborate cover story for Ben Zygier’s widow to explain his absence to her neighbors after he was arrested. She told them that he’d contracted cancer and had flown back to his native Australia for treatment. After his death, she told them that he’d died of the illness. This indicates either she was forced to adhere to this story or else she willingly did so.
The neighbors, themselves working in the security service, noted something not quite normal due to the fact that the widow was afforded security protection for a long period. That’s not what I would call it. I’d say the Shin Bet had pressured her to adhere to this cover story and put her under surveillance to ensure she would not do anything to endanger the agency and expose this scandal.
What’s interesting about this is that the Shin Bet devised a similar lie they fed to the family of KGB spy, Marcus Klingberg, telling them he’d had a severe mental breakdown and was in isolation in a psychiatric hospital. The ironic difference is that the Shabak gave Zygier a fatal dose of cancer while Klingberg managed to recover from his Shabak-induced breakdown and live. It also occurs to an Israeli friend that giving him cancer as a cover story to explain his arrest could allow the Shabak to make his illness “terminal” should it need to “terminate” him.
There is another element in the Walla report I find deeply troubling. It quotes a “senior justice source” associated with justice affairs (who my source identifies as Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein) issuing the following almost farcical statement:
Even in the future should we believe the security of the State demanded it we would act in the same way [as we did in the Zygier case]. He rejected the claim that there are Prisoner Xs in Israel.
“This isn’t a dictatorship. This isn’t Argentina. This isn’t a THird World country in which people disappear or that they’re imprisoned without anyone knowing who they are. THere is no such thing in Israel. It never was and never will be.”
He claimed there were a few unusual incidents in which for clear security reasons suspects were held under fictitious names. In some instances he said it was because publication of the name might damage state security and in other endanger the prisoner or his family. He further claimed that Zygier was given a fictitious name with his consent. Despite this, such a prisoner has the same rights as a normal prisoner: visits from his lawyer, his family receives immediate notification of his detention, he is entitled to visits and even to appeal his detention.
Zygier was prohibited from meeting his lawyer for the first three weeks of his detention as is permitted under Israeli law when the attorney general and district court judge certify it.
It seems Weinstein is pre-empting criticism of his role. He even manages to drag Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch into the mix by claiming that she was overseeing the circumstances of Zygier’s imprisonment. That’s ludicrous. If you were an Israeli Supreme Court justice you’d want to know nothing about this case because security cases like this are absolute poison. You know that they prostitute justice, but you also know that you can’t overturn them without upsetting the huge apple cart that is the security apparatus.
I find it insulting to the point of outrage that Weinstein claims both that Zygier agreed to the treatment afforded him and that it was done to protect him and his family: from whom? Enraged Shin Bet agents? Or Iranian or Australian security services? Were they out to get him? Or was perhaps the Mossad and Shabak leadership who he’d either betrayed or let down far more likely to have wanted to see him harmed?
Trevor Borman, who produced the original TV documentary that blew open the Zygier case, has a new report which says that Zygier had been cooperating with Australian intelligence in exposing Mossad operations both in Australia and in Italy, where it had created a commercial front company selling computer and electronic gear to Iran and other Arab states. He’d been arrested and detained by Australian intelligence for an extensive period in 2009. When he returned to Israel he was arrested there. If this is true, it makes Australia’s abandonment of him all the more tragic and inexcusable. It also makes Israel’s disappearance of him for a relatively small offense incomprehensible. Was Ben Zygier’s crime so severe that it merited the severity of the State’s treatment? Was it so severe that it justified the prostitution of the judicial system, which permitted this travesty? Will neither the justice minister nor attorney general nor Mossad nor Shabak chiefs have to answer for their egregious overreaching in this matter?
If Borman’s account turns out to be true, this will serve as yet another example of the Israeli national security state trampling on the lives of its citizens. While it’s understandable that Mossad would be angered by Zygier’s cooperation with ASIO, it’s not like he betrayed Israeli secrets to Iran, an Arab state, China or Russia. Australia is at least nominally an Israeli ally. Was it really worth taking a man’s life (or allowing that man to take his own) as punishment for such a crime? I also can’t help thinking about this poor Australian Jew, son of one of the nation’s Jewish leaders, who makes aliyah and dreams of serving his adopted country in its intelligence service–all as part of his Zionist vision. Think of him as he puts that rope around his head. What is he thinking? What’s happened to that Zionist dream? How could it come to this both for him and for the State of Israel?
On a related subject, I just read a tweet from an Australian who pointed out that until 2004 Australia did not permit dual nationality. Since Zygier made aliyah and presumably took Israeli citizenship in 2002, he could not have remained an Australian citizen (unless it didn’t revoke his citizenship, which would’ve been a grave error in his case). The implication of this is that both Zygier and the Mossad were violating Australian law when they sent him back to Australia three different times to change his name legally and obtain a new passport. Under Australian law (at least until 2004) that would’ve been illegal. I don’t know the law well enough to say whether after it was changed he would’ve been entitled to dual nationality (making his passport applications legal). But he certainly would’ve had to have reapplied for Australian citizenship (unless there was a grandfather provision for those forced to renounce their Australian citizenship), which he doesn’t appear to have done.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.