A spokesman for Egypt’s Islamist president said Mohammed Morsi’s anti-Semitic comments uttered nearly three years ago were taken out of context.

The Obama administration admonished Morsi on Tuesday over what it called the “deeply offensive” comments and called on him to repudiate them. Last week video of the comments was broadcast on Egyptian television, showing Morsi in 2010 — then a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood — referring to “Zionists” as “bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians” as well as “the descendants of apes and pigs.”

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said Wednesday that Morsi told a US Senate delegation that a distinction must be made between criticism of what he called the “racist” policies of the Israelis against the Palestinians and insults against the Jewish faith.

“The president affirmed that his remarks were regarding the Israeli aggression on Palestinians in Gaza and emphasised that statements must be put into context,” said Ali, adding that Morsi assured the visiting senators “of his respect for monotheistic religions, freedom of belief and the practice of religions.”

US Sen. John McCain, who led the delegation that met with Morsi, said he has expressed strong disapproval over the president’s past comments about Jews, but that he and other congressmen will push for an additional $480 million in assistance to help Egypt’s ailing economy.

“We leave it to the president to make any further comments on this matter that he may wish,” the Arizona Republican said.