ABC gets a letter from Judy
Judy Singer watched how ABC-TV’s 7:3o Report handled the Ben Zygier case following the release of findings by Foreign Minister Bob Carr. She penned this off to them…
Singer wrote: “I thought I’d switched on to Foxtel and “Wierd or What?” by mistake when I turned on your bizarre “reconstruction” of the Ben Zygier story last night, complete with the sensational morphing backwards and forwards between x-ray zombie Zygier, mild-mannered Jewish boy Zygier, the hulking Zygier stand in, the cowering Zygier in the padded cell, and then the slow, sexualised pan down his body, and all of this repeated several times. The only thing lacking was a William Shatner. You’ve got a real creative there in your production crew, but he’s in the wrong genre.”
The following is the text of the filmed report…
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The veil of mystery surrounding the case of the man known as “Prisoner X” is slowly being lifted. Ben Zygier was found dead in an Israeli jail cell in late 2010 after being locked up for almost a year. It was reported as a suicide. Today for the first time the Foreign Affairs Minister confirmed Mr Zygier worked for the Israeli Government, and while Australia knew of his imprisonment, an internal report said it didn’t seek to visit him, instead relying on Israeli assurances. Many questions remain as Hayden Cooper reports.
HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: The unmasking of Prisoner X ruptured the secretive world of Israeli intelligence, reverberated through the halls of power in Canberra and shocked the friends of the young man now revealed as Ben Zygier: the Australian-Israeli citizen who ended his own life in a lonely jail cell.
LIOR BRAND, FRIEND: We do feel that if we were let to come and visit him that we would tell him that we’ll go through it together; that time will pass and he will be released back and live on with us, with his wife, children. This is painful.
HAYDEN COOPER: From Melbourne to Tel Aviv the official search for answers about Ben Zygier’s imprisonment and death has been unrelenting. For his friends in Israel though, the whole affair seems avoidable. Lior Brand first met the Australian at a kibbutz in Israel in the 1990s. In recent years he suspected Ben Zygier had become an agent for Mossad.
LIOR BRAND: I wasn’t sure; I thought so. This is one of the things that I don’t ask, I don’t pry. All the story with him being locked up and him committing suicide it was a shock to us. We were in the dark, didn’t know, didn’t have answers. It was pretty agonising.
HAYDEN COOPER: Agonising because he says some of Ben Zygier’s friends had warned Israeli intelligence that he wasn’t suitable agent material. He says this happened when the authorities were conducting background checks on the Australian before he joined Mossad.
LIOR BRAND: And we were approached, and this is when we said that, “We don’t think he’s up to the job” – we didn’t know, of course, for what, but as much as he wanted it we didn’t think it’s for him. Now it’s really painful to say… to feel like, “We told you so.”
ALON BEN-DAVID, DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT, ISRAELI TV: It’s worth checking whether he met the criteria for drafting into Mossad, because I’ve heard several reports from Melbourne about him boasting of being a Mossad agent. This is not behaviour that is accepted in that kind of organisation.
HAYDEN COOPER: Alon Ben-David is the senior defence correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10. He has no doubts about the severe damage this case has done to Mossad and its global operations.
ALON BEN-DAVID: Every time Mossad agent is exposed in the press and his picture appears and his name and his passport, you can imagine what’s going on in the countries around us. I’m sure that the Iranians, the Lebanese, the Syrians have been beginning to examine when was Ben Zygier in Syria or in Iran – who was he with? Who did he meet? With today’s technology you could easily locate the surveillance camera footage, see exactly where he was, reconstruct his cellular phone calls or text messages. So the circles of damage are even hard to describe.
HAYDEN COOPER: For the Australian Government, the “circles of damage” depend on who knew what when and what action was taken. Now Bob Carr says he has some answers.
BOB CARR, FOREIGN MINISTER: The essence of the report I’ve received is that there was unsatisfactory lack of clarity over responsibility for dealing with this consular case.
HAYDEN COOPER: This report by the Foreign Affairs Department acknowledges that Ben Zygier’s case should have been better handled. It says although his family visited him 50 times in detention, the Australian consular staff didn’t bother. They trusted the word of the Israelis from the start – that Zygier would be treated well.
BOB CARR: I really think it’s unsatisfactory that things rested there, instead of the officers of the Australian embassy being able to make visits and see for themselves.
HAYDEN COOPER: It’s now clear that communication between ASIO and the Australian Head of Mission was found wanting.
BOB CARR: The Australian ambassador in Tel Aviv wasn’t informed of this. If he or she had been I’m certain they would have beaten a path to the Israeli authorities and sought access to Mr Zygier to satisfy themselves that the assurances given to ASIO by the Israeli Government were being respected.
HAYDEN COOPER: The exact circumstances leading to Ben Zygier’s arrest remain cloudy. Alon Ben-David doubts suggestions he was involved in the Mossad hit at the same time on a key Hamas official in Dubai.
ALON BEN-DAVID: There are many irrelevant stories being published, for example, the Dubai story. He had nothing to do with Dubai, and I don’t think he had even any knowledge about the Dubai affair – and I can say iy in certainty.
BOB CARR: There is no evidence that Mr Zygier was involved in the Dubai incident.
HAYDEN COOPER: There remains, however, a string of unanswered questions – not least the apparent suicide. This is the prison cell where Ben Zygier was held. The footage was taken from a surveillance camera before the Australian was held there.
And this is a former occupant of the cell. He wants to remain anonymous but says the report of suicide shocked him.
FORMER OCCUPANT OF CELL: What worries me was he killed himself, he make suicide. It’s very hard; there’s always a camera there. To tear up the sheets they can see you, because it always you are watching 24 hours a day. Even in the night there was a camera with night vision in the camera. So maybe can do it but it’s very hard and I don’t know how nobody saw it.
HAYDEN COOPER: Others believe the official assurances that it was just an oversight by prison guards.
ALON BEN-DAVID: Well, you know, a respectful judge signed on that report. You don’t lock up a person for eight months in order to cause him damage and, you know, I’ve been covering Israeli secret services for many years. We don’t eliminate Israelis and we don’t make Israelis disappear.
HAYDEN COOPER: Either way, this case of Ben Zygier will serve as a landmark for Australian authorities as they seek to improve their consular support, but for his friends and family in Melbourne and abroad, it’s all too late.
LIOR BRAND: We loved him. He really wanted to be a part of Israel. It was very important for him. He was very sensitive, bright young man and we miss him.
Transcript ABC-TV web site