CAIRO - A White House spokesman on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitic comments by President Mohammed Morsi before he took office, calling on him to "make clear this kind of rhetoric is not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt."
In a three-year-old video clip that resurfaced recently, Morsi, then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, urged Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred" for Jews and Zionists. In another video clip from 2010 that was recently distributed by a Washington research group, Morsi referred to "Zionists" as "these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs."
Asked about Morsi's anti-Semitic statements during a briefing at the White House, Jay Carney, the press secretary, said, "We have raised our concerns over these remarks with the government of Egypt."
He added: "We completely reject these statements, as we do any language that espouses religious hatred. This kind of discourse has been acceptable in the region for far too long and is counter to the goal of peace. President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths."
Representatives of Morsi have declined repeated requests to comment on the remarks, and on Tuesday they again remained silent.
Though inflammatory anti-Semitism is a staple of political discourse of all stripes in Egypt, Morsi's vitriolic statements threaten to undermine his efforts to build a reputation as a leader for moderation and stability in the Middle East. And attention to his remarks may embolden critics in Israel and the West who distrust his commitment to peace with Israel because of his background as an Islamist.
What's more, Morsi already faces attacks from ultraconservative Islamists and the left that he is too close to the United States and, by extension, Israel. Were he to back away from his remarks, he could become more vulnerable to such criticism.