Senate Democrats Push Egypt to Free Cleric Who Ordered Killing of 'Any Zionist'

Salah Soltan's children have donated tens of thousands to Democratic candidates and campaigns

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) (Getty Images)
July 28, 2023

Senate Democrats are lobbying the Egyptian government to release an imprisoned Muslim cleric who has called for the murder of all Israeli tourists, claimed Jews use the blood of Christians to make bread, and proposed "obliterating America" in a holy war.

The congressional support for Salah Soltan—a U.S. green card holder who was imprisoned as part of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s brutal crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013—comes after years of lobbying from his children, who have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic lawmakers.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs included a provision in the 2024 State Department appropriations bill that would require the State Department to consider Salah Soltan’s case as a condition for foreign aid to Egypt. Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) put forward an amendment to the bill backing Soltan's release, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it, according to committee records. That amendment asks the State Department to advocate for Soltan as part of its distribution of foreign aid to Egypt.

The Egyptian government has faced criticism over human rights abuses and unjust imprisonments, including the detentions of British blogger Alaal Abdel Fattah and Anas El-Beltagy, the son of a Muslim Brotherhood leader who has been locked up since age 19. But Soltan's advocacy of violence against Jews raises questions about why Senate Democrats decided to highlight him as one of just four named prisoners worthy of U.S. government support—aside from his family's financial support for the Democratic Party.

Soltan is a vocal anti-Semite who in 2011 issued an Islamic religious decree ordering the death of Israel’s ambassador and Israeli tourists in Egypt. "As someone who has studied Islamic law, specializing in Islamic jurisprudence, I am calling to kill the [Israeli] ambassador, not just expel him," Soltan said in a statement that aired on Al Jazeera and was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

"Any Zionist—tourist or other—who enters Egypt must be killed," he added. "We will not kill tourists from any [other] country. We stress that this fatwa is directed only toward those Zionists, who destroyed our country, killed our people, and shed our blood on our land."

Soltan’s children have lobbied for their father’s release and poured tens of thousands of dollars into Democratic campaigns. His daughter, Hanaa, gave $47,000 to President Joe Biden’s campaign and $18,600 to the Democratic National Committee in 2020, records show. Soltan’s son, Mohamed, gave at least $10,000 to Biden’s campaign that same year, and donated $5,800 last year to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), who posted on Twitter in support of the elder Soltan’s release in May.

Mohamed Soltan also gave $5,800 to Rep. Don Beyer (D., Va.) in 2021. Beyer in May tweeted that the cleric "should never have been imprisoned to begin with, but the conditions he faces—including denial of essential health care—are now threatening his life."

"I call on Egyptian authorities to immediately release Dr. Soltan," Beyer said.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a May Twitter post that they were "concerned" about Soltan’s health struggles in prison and called on Egypt to "release him & allow immediate access to lifesaving medical care."

Soltan has also argued that Jews used the blood of Christians to make bread on Passover, an anti-Semitic trope known as "blood libel."

"I want our brothers, and the whole world, to know what's going on these days during Passover," Soltan said in a 2010 appearance on the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV. "Every year, at this time, the Zionists kidnap several non-Muslims—Christians and others."

"They took [a doctor] on one of these holidays and slaughtered him, along with the nurse," Soltan continued. "Then they kneaded the matzos with the blood of Dr. Toma and his nurse. They do this every year," he said.

In another television appearance, Soltan said Jewish spies were raping children in Cairo and sent "girls with AIDS" to seduce "young Egyptians in order to infect them." During a 2012 interview on Sada Al-Balad TV, meanwhile, Soltan was asked if he supported a war with the United States.

"Why not? Indeed, we will fight Israel and all those who are behind it," he responded, according to the MEMRI translation. "Allah is present in this equation, and He is capable of obliterating America and any other oppressor. This is a divine law."