Navigate to News section

Israeli-U.S. Law Student Detained in Egypt

Friends and family claim Ilan Grapel is no spy; authorities say otherwise

Marc Tracy
June 14, 2011
Ilan Grapel.(Facebook)
Ilan Grapel.(Facebook)

Yesterday, a young man from Queens currently studying law at Emory University was arrested in Egypt. According to Egyptian media, security services accuse Ilan Chaim Grapel, 27, of being a “highly trained” Israeli spy living in Egypt “with the aim of harming [Egypt’s] economic and political interests.” They also allege he was planning to travel to rebel hubs in neighboring Libya. The U.S. State Department confirmed his arrest and that U.S. officials have been able to visit him (he is a dual Israel-American citizen). The Israeli Foreign Ministry, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has denied he is a spy, as did his mother and his Israeli-born father, who asserted that their son entered Egypt legally to work for a legal-assistance non-profit. According to Israel, he entered Egypt under his U.S. passport, and is therefore under the Americans’ jurisdiction. His arrest, nominally for 15 days, is seen as heightening Israel-Egyptian tensions in the midst of the unraveling of the Cairo-brokered Palestinian reconciliation deal.

A Johns Hopkins graduate who also studied one year at Ben Gurion University, Grapel was an IDF paratrooper wounded in the 2006 Lebanon war. Grapel’s mother reportedly wondered whether photos her son posted on his Facebook page of Egyptian protests helped provoke Egypt’s military authorities to accuse him of incitement, attempting to recruit agents, and fomenting sectarian strife between Muslims and Coptic Christians. Yet as one of his law school classmates argued, “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.” Another classmate described Grapel as “very liberal, very open-minded;” a friend calls him a “dove.”

His parents, as parents tend to do, put it best. Mother: “He’s a good boy, he was over there doing good work.” Father: “99 percent of what has been published about my son is made up. … he had a satellite phone like I’m an astronaut.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

Become a Member of Tablet

Get access to exclusive conversations, our custom app, and special perks from our favorite Jewish artists, creators, and businesses. You’ll not only join our community of editors, writers, and friends—you’ll be helping us rebuild this broken world.