Cairo — Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said vitriolic comments he made against Jews and Zionists three years ago had been taken out of context, an explanation that fell short of a U.S. call for him to repudiate the remarks.
The New York Times said it had obtained video of a speech by Mursi in 2010, when he was already a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement, in which he urged Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists.
In a television interview that the paper said he made months later, Mursi described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs”.
Footage of the later comments was viewed on YouTube by Reuters.
Mursi told a delegation of U.S. senators visiting Cairo on Wednesday that the remarks needed to be put “in the context in which they were said”, his spokesman said in a statement.
That context was Israeli “aggression” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the spokesman said, a possible reference to an Israeli military operation in Gaza in 2008 and 2009.
Mursi’s comments appeared at odds with the diplomatic, moderate image the Islamist leader has sought to convey since taking office last year and may stir unease among Egypt’s Western allies, whose help he needs to weather a financial crisis.
For Washington, which was a staunch ally of Egypt’s former leader Hosni Mubarak until he was overthrown in 2011 and is now trying to build a dependable relationship with Mursi, the remarks will have made uncomfortable viewing.
The United States provides Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid each year - support that flows from Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Mursi has promised repeatedly to respect the treaty, a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East, since becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected president last June.