CAIRO — A spokesman for President Mohammed Morsi said Wednesday that inflammatory comments that he made about Jews before taking office had been intended as criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians but had been taken out of context. The spokesman said that Morsi respected all monotheistic religions and religious freedom.
It was Morsi’s first public response to reports that as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood he had made anti-Semitic statements about Jews and Zionists. A recently resurfaced video of a speech that Morsi gave at a rally in his hometown in the Nile Delta nearly three years ago shows him urging his listeners ‘‘to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.’’ Ina television interview he gave the same year, Morsi criticized Zionists in recognizably anti-Semitic terms, as ‘‘these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.’’
Both sets of comments were reported this week in The New York Times. Representatives of the White House and the State Department condemned them. And on Wednesday, Morsi was confronted about the remarks by a visiting delegation of six US senators led by John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island.
Yasser Ali, the Morsi spokesman, said Wednesday night that Morsi had told the delegation that the comments were meant as criticism of the ‘‘racist’’ policies of the Israeli government, not as insults to Jews.
“President Morsi assured the delegation that the broadcast comments were taken out of an address against the Israeli aggression against Gaza,’’ Ali said. The spokesman said Morsi also assured senators of his respect for monotheistic religions as well as for ‘‘freedom of belief and practicing religions.’’
After the meeting, the senators declined to characterize Morsi’s response, but they appeared to feel he had addressed the issue. The senators emphasized their support for Egypt’s transition to democracy and will press Congress to provide financial aid and urge US businesses to invest in Egypt.
‘‘The Egyptian people are going to have to showcase your best behavior,’’ said another senator, Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.