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North Philadelphia mosque officials apologize for anti-Semitic statements delivered in sermons by guest imam

Guest imam at a North Philadelphia mosque delivered sermons that include anti-Semitic statements - the mosque's officials apologized.

File photo of the Al Aqsa Islamic Society, on Germantown Avenue near Jefferson Street.
File photo of the Al Aqsa Islamic Society, on Germantown Avenue near Jefferson Street.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Officials at a North Philadelphia mosque known for its commitment to interreligious dialogue have apologized for anti-Semitic statements made by a guest imam during several sermons delivered there over the last few months.

The comments in Arabic by Imam Abdelmohsen Abouhatab at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society included a reference to Jews as “the vilest” people, according to videotaped excerpts released last week by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors and translates Arabic and Muslim media.

Abouhatab, whom MEMRI describes as of “Egyptian origin,” described former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin as a “Polish crook."

In a reference to the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, which resulted in hundreds of mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites being killed at two Beirut-area refugee camps, Abouhatab said that Begin “would stand next to a pregnant woman, and would make bets whether it is a boy or a girl. He would make bets, while the woman was still alive! Then he would slit her belly open, while she was still alive, to see whether it is a boy or a girl. Just like that.” The Israeli Defense Forces had invaded Lebanon earlier that year and allied themselves with the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, which carried out the massacre.

The Inquirer has confirmed the accuracy of the translation with several area professors who are fluent in Arabic.

Al-Aqsa leaders condemned the comments in a statement on the mosque’s website.

“We are shocked and outraged to learn that one of our guest speakers said reprehensible anti-Jewish remarks on the floor of Al-Aqsa,” Chukri Khorchid, secretary of the mosque’s board of trustees, and Imam Mohamed Shehata said in a statement posted on the Al-Aqsa Society website. “This in no way represents our beliefs or policies. We condemn this action and will make sure that this never happens again.”

The comments were made in three sermons delivered in November, January, and February during Friday prayer gatherings at the mosque, according to the videotape.

Officials of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Philadelphia reached out to the mosque after learning about the statements and were told that Al-Aqsa Society leaders had launched an investigation and also affirmed that “hate against Jews or any group” would not be tolerated, according to a statement released Saturday by the ADL.

“We are grateful for Al-Aqsa’s rapid and resolute response, and we will continue to serve as a resource to the mosque as they work to combat anti-Semitism," the ADL statement said. "As we have often said while standing alongside our Interfaith partners in the wake of acts of bigotry: anti-Semitism and hate have no place in our communities.”

The ADL and Al-Aqsa are part of a contingent of area religious groups who have worked together on interfaith issues for years. Al-Aqsa was founded in 1989 and hosts an annual Walk for Peace march. In 2015, the mosque was the target of bigotry when a severed pig’s head was found outside its door. Pigs are considered insulting to Muslims who observe halal dietary laws. The mosque’s interfaith partners united to condemn the action.