WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) has made appeals to Egyptian officials on behalf of Ilan Grapel, the American-Israeli jailed in Egypt and the congressman’s former intern.
Grapel faces espionage charges as early as next week, reportedly for sending emails about his encounters in Cairo, where he was an interning for a nongovernmental organization that assists refugees from Sudan and elsewhere.
Ackerman, the ranking Democrat on the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told JTA that he had spoken with top U.S. and Israeli officials and had received assurances that he was not employed by either country. He said he has called Egyptian officials and was attempting to secure a lawyer in addition to the one appointed to Grapel by the court.
Ackerman, who employed Grapel as an intern in 2002, described Grapel as a "silly" 28-year-old who is "enamored of the Egyptian people and culture."
Ackerman said that Grapel, a graduate of Bronx High School of Science and Johns Hopkins University who is currently a student at Emory University School of Law, was guilty of nothing worse than being incautious. "If you’re a spy, you don’t put yourself on Facebook in an Israeli uniform," he said.
Grapel, whose parents live in Ackerman’s district in New York City, has served in the Israel Defense Forces.
"It was a ‘hey, look at me’ moment," Ackerman said. "This kid ain’t no spy."
Ackerman, who has many contacts in Egypt through his years on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said he told the Egyptians that he was willing to travel to Egypt to meet with authorities personally if it would help.