As readers will note from the accompanying media release, AIJAC is very relieved and pleased that Ilan Grapel, a bright young Israeli-American student, has now been released after more than four months of detention in Egypt. Ilan served a 2009 stint in AIJAC’s Melbourne’s office as a visiting Goldman Fellow, part of a program run by our American partner, the American Jewish Committee.
A useful timeline of his just-ended four month ordeal in Egypt is here.
In honour of the occasion of his release, it seems worth recalling some of the work Ilan did for AIJAC back in 2009. Because Ilan is fluent in Arabic, his main focus at AIJAC was researching and monitoring Arabic-language media published in Australia. He wrote two articles for the Australia/Israel Review, both dealing with examples of extremism in Australian Arabic media.
His first effort, published in July 2009, revealed that the radical left Australian newspaper Green Left Weekly was publishing an openly pro-terrorist Arabic supplement:
Green Left Weekly is openly trying to promote extremism among Arabic speakers in Australia through a monthly Arabic-language insert called the Flame. And this support is not limited to Green Left Weekly‘s own far-left agenda. Green Left Weekly‘s Arabic language output supports terrorist groups and promotes violence as the solution to the existence of the “Zionist state.”
You would think GLW‘s declared pursuit of the advancement of “anti-racist, feminist, student, trade union, environment, gay and lesbian, civil liberties,” would rule out admiration and promotion of radical Islamist groups like Hamas, which are deeply hostile to all of the above. Yet along-side content promoting the PFLP, a tiny left-wing and currently marginal Palestinian terror group, Hamas is also promoted by GLW as a positive model of “resistance,” that is to say, terrorism. Meanwhile, those killed as a result of the violence Hamas sparks are defined as “martyrs,” another element of terminology the Flame shares with Hamas.
Further, the terminology of the Flame is openly hostile to the more moderate governments of the region, and repeatedly demands that they wage all out war on the “Zionist entity”.
Subsequently, Ilan published revelations that programming intended for Syrian expatriaites on Melbourne community radio station 3ZZZ was being dominated by a small violent, secular, Nazi-inspired party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) which was using the station to spread antisemitic vitriol:
Flipping through Arabic community programming on Melbourne’s 3ZZZ public radio station, one can find an array of relatively innocuous programming: Koranic readings, Lebanese music, sardonic humour on Zionism, and news relevant to the various expatriate communities. However, one exception is the bi-weekly Syrian community broadcast, which provides a nefarious twist. Surprisingly, this broadcast has nothing to do with violent Islamist extremism, the major threat most people would today be concerned about with respect to Arabic-language media in Australia. Rather, 3ZZZ‘s Syrian programming advances the Nazi-inspired dogma of a violent secular party – it is the mouthpiece of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP)….
The party promotes old-fashioned antisemitism, with its focus on the international Jewish conspiracy thwarting the desired “Greater Syria”. To overcome the various competing ethnicities and religions within the idea of “Greater Syria”, SSNP ideology unifies Christianity and Islam against a common enemy – the Jew:
“And we embodied Islam from what G-d gave in the New Testament, and from what G-d gave in the Quran, and from what G-d gave in wisdom. We embodied Islam and we were one nation. There is no enemy that fights our religion, right, and homeland, except for the Jews, (July 15, 2009; 3ZZZ; emphasis added).”
Grapel’s work on 3ZZZ led to an article in the Australian newspaper, and 3ZZZ subsequently removed the SSNP program and tightened its procedures for community programming.
Meanwhile, there has been some interesting discussion internationally about the motivations for Grapel’s arrest and detention by Egypt’s interim government, and what it says about where Egypt is going.
American Middle East analyst Lee Smith wrote in this regard:
Longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, would not have dreamed of taking an American citizen hostage. It’s true that things have changed in Egypt, but let’s not overstate the case: Grapel’s arrest is not a sign that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is joining hands with Iranian-backed terror organizations. The purpose of the exchange, from Cairo’s perspective, is to placate the mobs that have already laid siege to the Israeli embassy, burned Coptic churches, and may in time cause even worse problems for the ruling military council. The way to calm the situation, they believe, is to show that Egypt’s problems are manufactured by the West, and that Cairo’s ever-competent rulers managed to unearth a plot before the foreigners could once again unleash their mayhem.
Why Cairo chose Grapel as its test case seems to be merely a matter of convenience…
Similarly, the Jerusalem Post commented in an editorial:
What we have here is a large, well-established, sovereign state that allows itself essentially to abduct an innocent tourist and hold him until someone pays a high enough ransom.
Not only is such conduct unconscionable and fundamentally unacceptable for a state, but it could complicate the situation immeasurably as ransom demands whet appetites and the bargaining process can result in ever mutating conditions.
Bleak assessments are underscored by the ongoing restlessness and violence in Egypt. Its current rulers need to fend off criticism by appearing ultra-patriotic, which means not appearing to back down on the Grapel case….
Finally, a couple of months ago the unnamed Cairo correspondent for the Jerusalem Report emphasised the susceptability of Cairenes to the sort of claims about nefarious foreign, especially Israeli, manipulation of Egyptian politics alleged in the Egyptian media against Grapel:
As Egypt attempts to transcend its authoritarian past and embrace democracy and free speech, its citizens are still susceptible to conspiracy theories that foreign powers are bent on destabilizing the country. And with its military rulers facing criticisms by a restless population for the sluggish pace at which members of deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s family are being brought to trial, foreigners serve as ideal scapegoats to deflect attention from their complaints and generate nationalistic support for the generals heading a transition government.
Ilan Grapel may be just such an example….
The Grapel affair illustrates that Egypt’s transition to democracy is unlikely to reduce hostility toward Israel or to dispel beliefs that the Jewish state is responsible for many of Egypt’s woes. Furthermore, with an unbridled press publishing sensational accounts and new publications competing for readers, episodes such as the Grapel affair are likely to proliferate.