The Obama administration reversed course Thursday and said it no longer would give a prestigious international women’s award to an Egyptian political activist after she was accused of posting anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist comments on Twitter.
Samira Ibrahim originally was selected to receive one of the International Women of Courage Awards on Friday when first lady Michelle Obama joins Secretary of State John F. Kerry in presenting the prizes at the State Department.
Officials at the State Department who chose the recipients apparently were unaware of Mrs. Ibrahim’s online comments, which were made in Arabic.
The Weekly Standard reported Wednesday that in one Twitter message, hours after a terrorist attack in Bulgaria in July killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver, Mrs. Ibrahim said: “An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.”
The Weekly Standard reported that Mrs. Ibrahim had made other questionable tweets, including one in which she described the ruling Saudi family as “dirtier than the Jews.”
The report caught the attention of some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, quickly sent a letter to Mr. Kerry asking what the State Department’s procedure was “for selecting and vetting candidates” for the award.
“Did the State Department review Ms. Ibrahim’s Twitter account prior to selecting her for this award?” Mr. Garrett queried.
State Department officials had said Ms. Ibrahim was receiving a Women of Courage Award on grounds that she survived horrific abuses in Egypt, including being sexually assaulted by the Egyptian military.
By Thursday afternoon, her name had been stripped from the official list of honorees on the State Department’s website. A spokeswoman said the department is pulling back from presenting her with the award.
“We as a department became aware very late in the process about Samira Ibrahim’s alleged public comments,” said Victoria Nuland. “After careful consideration, we’ve decided that we should defer presenting this award to Ms. Ibrahim this year so that we have a chance to look further into these statements.”
According to a report Thursday evening in The Weekly Standard, Ms. Ibrahim used her Twitter feed to blame the Zionist lobby.
“I refuse to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America regarding my previous anti-Zionist statements under pressure from American government therefore they withdrew the award,” she wrote in Arabic, according to a translation by Egyptian democracy activist Mina Rezkalla.
Mrs. Nuland added that Mrs. Ibrahim “has categorically denied” to the State Department that she wrote the messages and claimed her account “was hacked.”
The incident risked overshadowing what is otherwise a traditionally celebratory event at the State Department, which will present Women in Courage awards to nine other women Friday. The honorees include democracy and human rights activists and others from nine nations: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Honduras, India, Russia, Somalia, China, Syria and Vietnam.
State Department officials said that one of the awards will be given posthumously to “Nirbhaya,” the 23-year-old Indian woman whose death after being beaten and gang-raped on a bus sparked widespread protests in India demanding more protection for women and punishment for rapists.
The Times of India has for months called the woman “Nirbhaya,” a word of Sanskrit origin, which means “fearless.”
• Guy Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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