A delegation of American senators met earlier this month in Cairo with a spokesperson for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, according to the New York Times. The spokesperson clarified press accounts of Mr. Morsi’s recent description of Jews as “bloodsuckers,” “pigs” and “dogs.” The remarks, he explained, were “taken out of context.” The senators left the meeting “feeling as if Mr Morsi had addressed the issue,” according to the report.
In order to place the Egyptian spokesperson’s remarks in context, a ramble across past and present might be in order so as to uncover other examples of remarks being similarly “taken out of context.”
• Meeting on the beach outside besieged Troy with Greek bards, a spokesperson for mythical hero Achilles discussed a recent exchange he had with King Agamemnon over a war prize. Forced by Agamemnon to turn over the booty, god-like Achilles informed his commander that he was “a dog-faced, staggering drunk who was the most shameless, cowardly and grasping man alive.” He quit the army and retired to his tent.
When a bard asked for a clarification of the swift-footed warrior’s remarks, the spokesperson grabbed a spear and ran him through as rosy-fingered dawn appeared over the wine dark sea. The other bards felt as if Achilles had addressed the issue. (The prize, Chryseis, whose father was employed by Apollo as his priest, had no say in the matter.)
• Meeting with a single English reporter on the god-forsaken volcanic rock called Saint Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte, the recently retired Emperor of the French, was asked to clarify a remark he made about his former minister Charles Talleyrand, describing him as a “serving of s— in a silk stocking.”
The insulting remarks about Jews made by Mohamed Morsi in 2010 have been replayed enough that they don’t need to be repeated here. Morsi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood then, and probably never thought he’d become president of Egypt in just a few years. That may explain his remarks. It doesn’t excuse them.
Beyond lamentation and condemnation, how else should good people respond?
When asking myself that question, I thought back to the Forward’s January 9 meeting with Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Most of our discussion was off-the-record (his request, not ours), but I thought it was interesting that at only one point during the hour-long talk did he specifically say we could quote him. Oren is a very adept diplomat, an articulate, American-born historian with a command of language and nuance. He knows how to talk to the press. He wouldn’t go on-the-record unless he meant to.
And so he clearly wanted to get across a message about Morsi.