Egypt spy allegations against Israeli denied by family, classmates
JERUSALEM — Friends and relatives of a US-born Israeli arrested in Egypt on spy charges said yesterday he is a law student in Atlanta with an avid interest in the Mideast — and not a Mossad agent out to sabotage Egypt’s revolution, as Egyptian authorities have charged.
His mother said he arrived in Cairo only in May, countering implications that he was involved in protests as early as February.
The arrest of 27-year-old Ilan Grapel has set off new fears in Israel that relations with Egypt will sour now that its longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, has been deposed.
Since Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt’s military rulers have often warned against unspecified “foreign’’ attempts to destabilize the country. Egypt, like other Arab states, has a long history of blaming internal problems on Israeli saboteurs.
“I hope this doesn’t mark a new direction of putting peace in deep freeze and beginning harassment,’’ said Israeli lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who counts Mubarak as a personal friend. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, but relations have been cordial at best.
Grapel was arrested Sunday at a hotel in Cairo. His mother, Irene Grapel, said he was spending the summer as an intern with a legal aid group. A statement from the Egyptian prosecution said Ilan Grapel had recently attended protests and “incited the protesters to acts of riot.’’
Pictures of Grapel were published in Egyptian newspapers, and the semiofficial Egyptian daily Al-Ahram identified him in a headline as a “Mossad officer who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution.’’
Irene Grapel told Israel Army Radio in an interview from Queens, N.Y., that the family had spoken to him yesterday and that “he is not being mistreated.’’ She said her son arrived in Cairo last month to do a legal internship with a group that helps resettle refugees.
In an interview with AP Television News, she called the charges “so bogus.’’
“He is not a Mossad spy,’’ she said.
The spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Cairo, Elizabeth Colton, said a consular officer visited Grapel in custody. Diplomats were working to make sure he is “treated fairly under local law’’ and maintains communication with family and friends in the United States, she said in an e-mail.
An Israeli official said Grapel’s case was being handled by the United States and not Israel because he entered Egypt with an American passport. Egypt receives large amounts of foreign aid from the United States.
Law school colleagues cast doubts on the allegations, and an Egyptian Facebook page, sardonically called “stupid Israeli spy,’’ even mocked the charges, saying no spy could have bumbled so badly.
Grapel appears to have been traveling under his real name, making no secret of his Israeli links. His connections to Israel, including his past military service, are easy to find on the Internet.
“I don’t think a Mossad agent would post things on Facebook, travel under his own name, and get a grant from law school to travel,’’ said Rebecca Peskin, a classmate at Emory University in Atlanta, dismissing the Egyptian allegations. “This is a big misunderstanding.’’
Will Felder, another Emory classmate, said Grapel was born in New York City, then moved to Israel, where his grandparents live, as a young man.
Like most Israeli citizens, he performed compulsory military service. He was wounded in the 2006 war between the Israeli military and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies. He planned to return to Emory for his third and final year of law studies, Felder said.