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23 JUN 2024

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Amalek & Netanyahu's Call For Mass Murder

What did Netanyahu mean when he referred to the biblical Amalek? Was it a call for mass murder?

  • Amalek in the Hebrew Bible: Amalek is depicted as the ancestor of the Amalekites, a tribe often at odds with the Israelites.

  • In 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu referenced Amalek in response to a Hamas attack, drawing from Deuteronomy 25:17. This statement was subject to misinterpretation and controversy in various media outlets, due to confusion with a different verse in the Book of Samuel.

  • Media outlets and critics sometimes misquoted or took Netanyahu's reference out of context, leading to a debate over its implications. Israeli spokespersons clarified that the reference to Amalek was directed at Hamas, not civilians.

  • Research and statements from officials such as the White House National Security Council spokesperson made clear that Netanyahu did not call for the murder of civilians in Gaza, emphasizing Israel's efforts to minimize civilian casualties. Israeli spokesman Eylon Levy clarified that there is no Israeli desire to harm civilians. 


Image by Philip De Vere - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Who Was Amalek?

Amalek is a figure mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, known as the ancestor of the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe often portrayed as the enemies of the Israelites.

In his book, “A Genealogy of Evil Anti-Semitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad” by David Patterson (2010), Amalek is described in the following way: 

"the name of the tribe who attacked the children of Israel and the elders among the Israelites immediately upon the exodus from Egypt, a name that personifies the evil that threatens the Jews and the rest of humanity."

Biblically, Amalek is said to be the grandson of Esau, making the Amalekites distant relatives of the Israelites. Throughout various biblical narratives, the Amalekites are depicted engaging in conflict with the Israelites, beginning with an attack on them during their exodus from Egypt. This initial act of aggression is seen as the root of their enduring enmity​.  The first mention of Amalek in the Bible is in Genesis 36:12. 

The account of the Amalekites attacking the Israelites in Rephidim is found in the Book of Exodus (Exodus 17:8-16). This story is a key reference point in religious texts and is often analyzed in theological studies.

In 1804, a sermon by James Clark, Minister of Brigg in Lincolnshire, UK, discusses the relationship between Moses and Amalek as a battle of faith between good and evil. Moses, as the leader of the Israelites, often symbolizes faith and reliance on God, while the battle against Amalek could be seen as a metaphor for the spiritual battles faced by believers.

What Did Benjamin Netanyahu Say About Amalek and in What Context? 

Prime Minister Netanyahu, when speaking to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on October 28, 2023, invoked the biblical reference, “‘You must remember what Amalek has done to you,’ says our Holy Bible”. His address was in response to the Hamas attack of October 7.

The controversy surrounding Netanyahu's comments about Amalek stems from a statement he made in the context of Israel's conflict with Hamas. Netanyahu invoked the biblical story of Amalek, an ancient enemy of the Israelites, during a time of heightened conflict with Hamas. His statement was interpreted by some as suggesting genocidal intent, leading to accusations and a legal challenge by South Africa at the International Court of Justice.

The quote Netanyahu referenced comes from Deuteronomy 25:17, however, on social media, critics of Israel incorrectly claimed he was citing a different verse from Samuel, a passage he did not actually mention. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) outlines how this quote was taken out of context and used against Netanyahu. 

This inaccurate reference to the verse from Samuel was repeated on NPR’s Morning Edition by presenter Leila Fadel on November 7, 2023. You can listen to this broadcast or read the transcript from the segment here

Criticism over the use of the quote resurfaced following South African lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi’s opening argument at the International Court of Justice on January 12, 2024, when Ngcukaitobi referenced Netanyu’s address

Israeli spokesperson, Eylon Levy was questioned by Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy on January 13, 2024, and emphasized that the Israeli government intends no harm to civilian populations, and any comparison to Amalek is directed to the terrorist entity, Hamas, and not to innocent civilians

Levy reiterates to the interviewer, “You keep going back to this Amalek reference which refers to the destruction of Hamas. It refers to the destruction of the terrorist organization.”

Was Netanyahu Calling for the Murder of Civilians or Genocide in Gaza? 

In our research, we were not able to find any evidence that Netanyahu was calling for the murder of civilians in Gaza.  White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby has spoken about the steps Israel has taken to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza and the various steps Israel takes to protect civilians and on December 18, 2023, is quoted by the White House as saying “The Israelis are not making the slaughter, torture, and rape of civilians in Gaza a war aim.  It’s not baked into their plans.  They’re not deliberately trying to kill civilians”.

Netanyahu's office directly rejected South Africa's claims. The Prime Minister’s office stated that the comparison to Amalek has historically been used to symbolize those who seek to eradicate the Jewish people, citing examples like the Nazis.

The office emphasized that the phrase "Remember what Amalek has done to you" appears at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum and is not intended as an incitement to genocide. Instead, it is seen as a reminder of the Jewish people's historical struggles against extermination and a call to witness against such atrocities.

Further, the statement from Netanyahu's office clarified that the phrase used by him, "Remember what Amalek has done to you", is from Deuteronomy 25, which refers to the peril posed by the Amalekites to the Israelites in the desert, rather than the passage in Samuel I, chapter 15, that talks about the total destruction of the Amalekites.

The phrase “Remember what Amalek has done to you” has been used throughout Jewish history, and more so since the Holocaust as a call to witness antisemitic acts of destruction and hatred, like those seen on October 7 when Hamas infiltrated Israel and abducted hostages that at the time of writing, are still being held in Gaza.  This phrase is not understood to be a literal call for genocide.

In the broader context of Jewish thought and tradition, the story of Amalek has been used as a typology for antisemitism, symbolizing existential threats to the Jewish people throughout history. The narrative of Amalek is not just about remembering past enemies but also about recognizing and opposing contemporary forms of antisemitism and existential threats.

In the broader context of Jewish thought and tradition, the story of Amalek has been used as a typology for antisemitism, symbolizing existential threats to the Jewish people throughout history. The narrative of Amalek is not just about remembering past enemies but also about recognizing and opposing contemporary forms of antisemitism and existential threats.

The reference to Amalek appears intended to frame the Hamas attack within the broader context of Jewish history and the ongoing struggle against forces seeking the destruction of the Jewish people. This framing was meant to reinforce the need for vigilance and defense against such threats, rather than a call for the extermination of a specific group of people.

The contemporary Israeli-Hamas conflict has been linked to the conflict between the biblical Israelites and the Amalekites who sought their destruction. By delving into the historical and theological underpinnings of Prime Minister Netanyahu's comparison of Hamas to Amalek, particularly in the context of the Gaza War, it can be argued that Hamas's actions, marked by brutality and a rejection of peace, resonate with the biblical portrayal of Amalek as an implacable foe. This comparison is used to justify a firm fight against Hamas, drawing parallels to the biblical directive of confronting Amalek.



The Bible Genesis 36:12 

Channel 4 News: These were two terror operatives. January 13, 2024.

SABC News. SA-Israel ICJ case | Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC January 11, 2024.  

Mideast Journal. What Does Israel Do to Protect Civilians In Gaza? December 26, 2023.  

Mosaic Magazine What Invoking Amalek Means Today November 16, 2023

Yosef Silver

Yosef Silver

Yosef Silver is an entrepreneur and marketing strategist with a flair for email marketing and growth strategies. A frequent conference speaker and non-profit founder, he blends professional expertise with community engagement. You can follow him at @ysilver on X (formerly Twitter).


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