An Israeli-American, Ilan Grapel, has been arrested by Egyptian authorities (Hebrew) and charged with recruiting people in Tahrir Square to spy for Israel. Grapel is a native of Queens, NY and made aliya to Israel in 2004 and volunteered for service in the IDF, where he was wounded in the second Lebanon war (Hebrew). He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2004 and also studied at Ben Gurion University.
Grapel is believed to have entered Egypt under the claim that he was a foreign correspondent covering events inside the country, when he is an Israeli citizen. His Facebook account claims his job status is “preaching” at Azhar University in Cairo, which if true would be an exceedingly strange choice for an Israeli. I presume it’s meant as a joke, though a strange one. In fact, one of his Facebook photos shows him allegedly “preaching Zionism” at Azhar. The kid (he looks quite young) seems very confused at the least. And it’s no wonder that any Egyptian who checked out his Facebook profile would immediately suspect him of either being odd or an Israeli spy.
Frankly, he would be a very stupid spy if he maintained a Facebook account showing him dressed in his IDF uniform. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t. Just that he or his superiors had a strange idea of how to create his spy identity. Though I’m inclined to believe that Grapel is either a naive enthusiast or misguided idealist who doesn’t realize how foolish what he was trying to do was given his background. The Notes section of his Facebook profile contains some illuminating speeches about the Israeli-Arab conflict. They reveal him to be an intelligent but highly conventional American Jewish liberal Zionist. The fact that he thought he could pass for normal in Egypt in the midst of the Arab democratic revolution, given his generally hostile political views toward Palestinians, boggles the mind. Here is how he explained his plans to spend a year in Egypt:
I ended up in Egypt for a few reasons. I had a year off before starting life and wanted to get to as high a level of Arabic as possible before starting law school. Thus I wanted to live in an Arab country. My options were limited due to Israeli citizenship to– Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Qatar, Mauratania…. Morocco doesn’t really speak Arabic so I thought it would be counterproductive and Tunisia was attractive but far away. Jordan has the easiest and most useful dialect but is also surprisingly expensive. Egypt was dirt cheap ($5/hour for a private teacher). Its dialect is annoying but its comprehension is important for the Arab world (oom a-doonia). Also, I was familiar with Cairo from past trips and had a few friends from Al-Azhar that would basically sit, converse, preach to me, in Arabic, for free, until state security scared them off….I would really like the chance to settle in another country, but don’t think I will have this chance again.
Grapel’s mother, when interviewed by Israeli news refused to specify what contacts, if any she’s had with the Israeli government, though she does make clear she expects help in her plight from the U.S. government.
The Israeli-American youth is accused of fomenting ethnic-religious tension and spying on the Egyptian military. He was turned in by Egyptian young people who he allegedly attempted to recruit in return for financial payments. He was arrested in one of Cairo’s most elegant hotels allegedly while equipped with multiple cellular phones, laptops, various documents, photographs he’d taken of Egyptian sites, and a large amount of money. The Israeli prime minister’s office immediately released a statement saying that he was not a Mossad agent. The particular formulation raised my suspicions. Why not say he was not an Israeli spy? Why only say he wasn’t a Mossad agent? Who else might he be spying for if not the Mossad? Yisrael HaYom quotes a friend of Grapel’s calling his arrest an “Egyptian provocation.” We’ll have to see about that. It could even more likely be an Israeli provocation. Of course Israel would love to plant spies inside Egypt, though why they would attempt to plant someone of American origin doesn’t make much sense to me unless he’s attempting to recruit students from American University in Cairo. The original tweet I saw said his name was “Everlane Green,” another strange aspect of this case. It isn’t even a credible American name if it was his cover or pseudonym.
The Israeli foreign ministry, as is its wont under the “leadership” of Avigdor Lieberman, has confused matters even further by claiming Grapel’s Facebook photos placing him in Tahrir Square with Egyptian demonstrators “appear to be fabricated,” and Grapel is an innocent Israeli framed for political motives. Though the latter might be true why would you claim Facebook photos were fabricated?
This article first appeared at Tikun Olam