Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said that statements he made three years ago demeaning Jews and Zionists were taken out of context.
He claims the statements were made following Israeli aggression against Palestine.
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 months later, Mursi described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
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 appear 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.
Despite these caustic remarks made earlier in his political career, since the start of his presidential campaign, Mursi vowed to uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
The United States on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitic remarks attributed to the Egyptian president before he was elected to office, and urged him to make clear his views.
“The language that we’ve seen is deeply offensive,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding “we think that these comments should be repudiated, and they should be repudiated firmly.”
Mursi’s anti-Semitic remarks, documented on video in 2010, came back to haunt him when the footage was aired on television by Egyptian satirist Bassem Yousef on Friday.
The reemergence of the video showed Mursi addressing a rally in his hometown in the Nile Delta.