A family friend of Melbourne man Ben Zygier, the reported Mossad agent who died in an Israeli prison in 2010, has called for “justice” and transparency two years after the 34-year-old's death.
Henry Greener, who went to school with Mr Zygier's orthodox father, Geoffrey Zygier, and attended the same synagogue as the family, Chabad Malvern, said he could no longer abide by a “sleeping dogs lie” credo.
“We all knew there was something suspicious and underhanded about Ben's death and nobody wanted to go there because of the suppression order in Israel,” Mr Greener said.
“But now that the cat's been let out of the bag, we are going to find out a lot more, and in that process I think there should be justice for Ben, to find out what happened – because nobody really knows.”
Mr Greener, who took his own cue to speak out from a report aired on the ABC's Foreign Correspondent earlier this week, said he watched Ben grow up into “the sweetest guy,” and that the untimely death of such a popular and “model person” had “gutted” the local Jewish community.
“He had a lovely nature – friendly, warm, outgoing. He loved adventure and the outdoors – he wasn't one of these people stuck in front of the computer all day,” Mr Greener said.
“Very good looking, always smiling, never in trouble – to me he was the model child.”
Mr Greener, producer of The Shtick on Channel 31, said Mr Zygier's death was felt widely given the extensive network kept by his parents, Geoffrey and Louise Zygier, who have held several positions with Jewish organisations in the city.
“They were almost the aristocracy of our community,” Mr Greener said.
“(Ben) was very much like his mother, who was a bright and strong woman. Look at the photos of him – he's a sweetheart, beautiful blue eyes like his mother. We hold our women in high esteem, and his mother was one of the most esteemed women I knew … but she's completely hidden herself away in such grief. We were all in grief.”
This week Mr Greener coincidentally invited Ben Zygier's uncle, musician Willy Zygier and his wife Deborah Conway, on his show, where they talked about the launch of a CD called Stories of Ghosts. “That will give you a clue about how grieving the family are. I asked them what does this mean? … It relates to a personal grief.”
Few in the local Jewish community have spoken publicly about Mr Zygier's death – more than a dozen organisations and individuals contacted on Thursday by Fairfax Media offered no comment – but the silence does not surprise Mr Greener, who put it down to a modest Malvern family's simple desire for privacy.
“They've been silent ever since Ben's death, and they were even before that,” he said.
“They were never the kind of people – Geoff and Louise and Ben – to be glitzy or glamorous. They were very understated people. They don't want to go there.”
Reflecting on reports that Ben Zygier – a qualified lawyer who had performed military service in Israel – was an agent for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and also under investigation by ASIO – Mr Greener can only speculate.
“The irony is that Ben was a soft, gentle, sensitive young man, and I don't think he was the type. But since he had military training, had a law degree, and was a fit guy who's intelligent – obviously he would have been a target for them. They only recruit the best of the best. But to me, he would have been one of the last people I could imagine being a Mossad spy.”
Mr Zygier was 34 when he died, reportedly hanging himself inside a supposedly “suicide proof” cell in the maximum security Ayalon prison, where he was being held on unknown charges. His body was reportedly repatriated one week later and buried locally. Little is known about Mr Zygier publicly. He graduated from Bialik College in 1993, studied law locally, completed his articles at law firm Deacons (now Norton Rose), and reportedly completed an MBA at Monash University. He is survived by his Israeli wife and two children, and is remembered fondly.
“He did all of the things that we all did. He wasn't a loner. He was part of the social world, but not excessively. He was a model person in my personal opinion," Mr Greener said.
"He was the nicest kid that I knew. When he saw me he would give me a big hug.
“We're all still gutted. We know that he died under suspicious circumstances, and there's nothing you can do, and that's the biggest frustration.”
The story We want justice for Ben Zygier, family friend says first appeared on The Age.