Ynet News – Feb 13, 2014
Friends, acquaintances of alleged spy say ‘There were rumors he was Mossad’; former coworker: Ben was proud of his army service. Father says matter too painful for family to comment on Ynet
The story of Ben Zygier, the Australian national who allegedly committed suicide while being held in an Israeli prison – the details of which remain under a strict gag order – continues to resonate in his native Australia.
The Australian Financial Review published a story with Patrick Durkin, a friend of Zygier, who clerked with him and a group of friends at Norton Rose, a law firm, in 2001.
“I remember drinking with Ben one night in 2001 when he recounted his famous story about taking a bullet in the posterior during his military service in Israel, which he served shortly before joining our group,” Durkin said.
ABC’s ‘Prisoner X’ investigation
According to him, “He described in vivid detail serving on the front line and backtracking across war-torn countryside while gunfire peppered the ground,” recalling the incident that left him wounded in his rear end.
“He was extremely proud of his time in the military, despite our endless teasing about the wound we never asked to see.
In regards to Israel, Durkin recalls arguing with Zygier: “I remember passionately debating the finer points of the Israeli-Palestine conflict with Ben who was obviously deeply engaged with the issue.”
He also spoke of Ben’s personal interests, citing “his fondness for the music of Deborah Conway” an Australian singer, with whom “he was connected through his uncle Willy Zygier – Conway’s long-time partner.”
He additionally noted, that despite being “five-foot something” Zygier played, and was actually quite skilled at football; “Ben dominated on the ball.”
The two had met when “Ben had joined our group of 20-odd articled clerks halfway through the year.”
As the years passed the group grew apart, Zygier “reportedly moved back to Israel more than 10 years ago. Our group lost touch with him and never knew the life he established with a wife and two small children.”
According to his friends he was “serious” but “aloof.”
As an explanation, Durkin cites Zygier’s educational background: “He had attended Bialik College in suburban Melbourne – described as a co-educational, Zionist, Jewish day school”.
According to the Australian paper The Age, Zygier was a member of a prominent Jewish family in the Australian city of Melbourne, where Geoffrey, his father, is the executive director of the Victoria Jewish Community Council.
“It’s still just too painful for us to speak about at the moment,” Geoffrey, Zygier’s father said from his home in Malvern.
“We understand the interest, but we’ve decided not to talk to anyone, not at the moment. I’m sorry.”
‘Never struck me as stable’
Meanwhile, despite the family’s silence, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) has reported that members of Australia’s Jewish community have begun to share what they knew about Zygier’s earlier life.
A friend from the Hashomer movement, who was with Zygier in Kibbutz Gazit in 1994 said that Zygier “never struck me as someone who was stable.”
“I could never imagine someone like that being good for Mossad,” said the acquaintance, who like most acquaintances interviewed about Zygier did not want to be identified. “Also, Ben talked too much.”
Others who close to the family repeated reports that the parents were devastated in by their son’s 2010 death.
“They were absolutely shocked, it was just terrible,” recalled Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Lamm said he had no current information on the case.
“There was a complete shutdown,” said someone else about circumstances surrounding Zygier’s death. “No one knew what the story was. The parents crumbled. They cut off from life. They were broken. They completely withdrew from everything for two years.”
Both of Zygier’s parents quit the Jewish community posts they held around the time of Zygier’s death.
“The poor parents have suffered enough till now,” one former Jewish community leader told JTA.
“No one acknowledged there was suicide. There were rumors he was Mossad, but no one knew, there was such secrecy.”
Another acquaintance said, “I remember hanging out in Israel with him in 1996. He was a nice guy, a bit lost. Next I heard was that he died in Israel.
“At the time, what the family understood to be the case was that he was overseas on a (alleged Mossad) operation, then they got confirmation he had committed suicide. It crushed the family.”
Reached by JTA, Zygier’s cousin, Marlon Dubs, said, “I have nothing to add, nothing at all.”
The family’s rabbi, Shimshon Yurkowicz of Chabad, declined to confirm or deny anything to do with the Australian network’s report.