Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi falsely claimed Sunday that Egypt has never persecuted Jews living in the country.
“You spoke about the crisis and you spoke as a Jew,” Sissi told Secretary of State Antony Blinken through an interpreter. “I am an Egyptian citizen, I was born and raised in a neighborhood where we had Jewish neighbors. And the Jews who lived here in Egypt never suffered oppression or persecution.
Sisi’s comments directly contradict Egyptian history, including the slavery of the ancient Israelites as characterized in the biblical story of Moses and the violence against Jews during the first centuries of Christianity. In modern times, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser led a campaign to expel Jews from the country in the late 1950s and 1960s. The Jewish population in Egypt once numbered around 80,000, but today, almost no Jews live there.
The comments followed a meeting between Sissi and Blinken, who traveled to Egypt, Israel, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to meet with Middle Eastern leaders. He is there to discuss the conflict between Israel and Hamas that erupted last week after the Palestinian militant group launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel from Gaza.
Israel has since begun a siege of Gaza, firing its own barrage of retaliatory missiles and killing more than 2,000 Palestinians, while restricting access to food and electricity in the region long under blockade by Israel and the Egypt.
Speaking to reporters alongside Blinken, Sissi criticized Israel’s response to the attack.
“We are facing a huge crisis here and I am very concerned about the reaction: they are simply overextending the right of self-defense, and this is turning into a (collective) punishment of 2.3 million Palestinians,” he said. Sissi, according to a report. transcript provided by the Department of State.
Blinken responded by condemning “atrocities” committed by Hamas and vowing to oppose the militant group.
“I come first and foremost as a human being, a human being like so many others appalled by the atrocities committed by Hamas,” Blinken said. “We are determined to oppose Hamas and what it has done, and to ensure that it cannot happen again.”