CAIRO - A fiery tirade against Jews by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's leader highlights one of the foremost diplomatic challenges facing the country's new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi as he balances popular sentiment with the need for security relations with Israel.
The Brotherhood's supreme leader Mohammed Badie called on Muslims worldwide this week to defend Jerusalem, saying "Zionists only know the way of force." He said that Jews were spreading "corruption," had slaughtered Muslims and desecrated holy sites.
Badie's condemnation went well beyond the harsh criticism of Israel and its policies that is common in Egypt, opening even greater friction between the country's most powerful political group and its Jewish neighbor. And it will likely put more pressure on Morsi, who ran for president as a Brotherhood candidate, to take a more assertive role than his predecessor had in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Morsi made no public comments about Badie's remarks, the strongest criticism against Israel since Morsi took office in June. His spokesman, Yasser Ali, did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, said the Brotherhood's statement was aimed at deflecting attention from Morsi's troubles in his first 100 days in office, from fuel shortages to mounting piles of garbage on the streets.
"Every time there is domestic tension in the new Egypt, Israel and the Jews will be targeted and every time the Egyptian street is tense or protests the Muslim Brotherhood will bring the anti-Semitic genie out of the bottle," he said Saturday.
Israel has increasingly become worried about the ascendance of the formerly repressed Brotherhood to power after last year's ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who was often pictured warmly greeting Israeli officials in Cairo.
The two nations share security concerns about their volatile border area, and both control entry and exit points for the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Islamic militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have carried out attacks this past year against security forces from both countries.