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Netanyahu rejects claim ‘Amalek’ quote was genocidal



JTA – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected claims that his comments invoking Amalek, an enemy people of the ancient Israelites, suggested genocidal intent in Israel’s war on Hamas.

South Africa quoted Netanyahu and other Israeli officials in bringing genocide charges against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this month. In particular, its charging document singled out Netanyahu for his statement as Israel prepared its ground invasion on 23 October 2023.

“The Prime Minister invoked the Biblical story of the total destruction of Amalek by the Israelites, stating, ‘You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember’,” the charging document said. It also quotes 1 Samuel 15, in which King Saul is instructed to “spare no-one” in attacking Amalek.

Netanyahu’s office said on 16 January that the charge was one of a number of “absurdities” aired at initial hearings last week at the ICJ at The Hague. “This false and preposterous charge reflects a deep historical ignorance,” it said.

“The Amalekites mercilessly attacked the children of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt,” the statement said. “The comparison to Amalek has been used throughout the ages to designate those who seek to eradicate the Jewish people, most recently the Nazis.”

The statement from Netanyahu’s office noted that the phrase, “Remember what Amalek has done to you” appears at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum, and is inscribed on a memorial to Dutch Jews murdered during the Holocaust at The Hague, where the court sits. “Obviously neither reference is an incitement to genocide of the German people,” the statement said.

Malcolm Shaw, the British barrister who led the team defending Israel at The Hague, noted during last week’s testimony that Netanyahu made clear in the fuller quotation that he was identifying Amalek with Hamas, not with Palestinians generally.

“There’s no need here for a theological discussion on the meaning of ‘Amalek’ in Judaism, which was indeed not understood by the applicant,” Shaw said.

The South African charging document also misattributed the source of Netanyahu’s quote, inaccurately suggesting he was referring to 1 Samuel 15. Netanyahu, however, didn’t quote that passage. Instead, “Remember what Amalek has done to you” is from Deuteronomy 25, and refers to how G-d saved the Israelites from the peril posed by the Amalekites in the desert. In the context of Deuteronomy, the phrase appears among a litany of commandments, and is seen by Jewish scholars as a commandment to remember that G-d is with the Jews even in times of peril.

The phrase as it appears in Deuteronomy has repeatedly been used since the Holocaust as a call to witness. Commentators said the calls to spare no Amalekites or to blot out their memory were to be understood metaphorically, not literally.

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