Says quote described Hamas's 'utterly evil actions'

PM’s office says it’s ‘preposterous’ to say his invoking Amalek was a genocide call

Netanyahu’s office notes biblical phrase about remembering enemy of ancient Israelites hangs in Yad Vashem — as well as The Hague — in memorials to Jews killed in Holocaust

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

A banner in a permanent exhibit at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, urging visitors to 'remember what Amalek did to you,' in an undated photo distributed by the Prime Minister's Office (Courtesy)
A banner in a permanent exhibit at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, urging visitors to 'remember what Amalek did to you,' in an undated photo distributed by the Prime Minister's Office (Courtesy)

The Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday hit out at South Africa’s allegation that comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referencing the Amalekites, the biblical enemy of the ancient Israelites, in relation to Hamas were incitement to genocide.

Netanyahu’s references to the Amalekites were part of South Africa’s charges of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice, which were heard last week in The Hague.

In a statement on Tuesday, nearly a week after South Africa made the accusations, the PMO dismissed them as “absurdities,” and said the “false and preposterous charge reflects a deep historical ignorance.”

The PMO said that when Netanyahu used the biblical quotation “Remember what Amalek did to you,” he was using it as a way of describing the savage Hamas attack of October 7, and certainly not as a call for wanton killings.

The PMO pointed out that the same phrase appears in a permanent exhibit at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, as well at a memorial in The Hague itself for Dutch Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

“Obviously neither reference is an incitement to genocide of the German people,” the PMO said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (Yariv Katz/POOL/Flash90)

“So too Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reference to Amalek was not an incitement to genocide of Palestinians, but a description of the utterly evil actions perpetrated by the genocidal terrorists of Hamas on October 7th and the need to confront them,” the statement read.

There are several accounts of, and references to, the Amalekites in the Bible, including an attack by the Amalekites on the Israelites in Exodus; a commandment to “Remember what Amalek did to you” in Deuteronomy; another commandment in Deuteronomy to “blot out the memory of Amalek,” interpreted to mean destroy the Amalekites; and the account of King Saul’s attack on and destruction of the Amalekites in Samuel I.

The PMO’s statement came as the judges in the ICJ continue to deliberate whether to order provisional measures against Israel as requested by South Africa as it alleged that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

A memorial to Dutch Jews murdered during the Holocaust featuring the Biblical quotation ‘Remember what Amalek did to you’ in The Hague in an undated photo (The Hague municipality via the Prime Minister’s Office)

It is crucial in genocide proceedings in the court to prove intent to deliberately destroy a people, or part of it, in order to rule that genocide took place — which is why South Africa cited Netanyahu’s references to the Amalekites, as well as other inflammatory comments against Gazans made by senior Israeli government ministers.

South Africa’s application to the ICJ also included charges that Israel had failed to punish individuals who made inciting comments as is required under the Genocide Convention to which it is a signatory.

Israel’s legal team in The Hague attacked the fundamental claims of South Africa’s genocide allegations, which contained little mention of the atrocities committed during the October 7 onslaught by Hamas-led terrorists, with Israel arguing that the “appalling suffering” of civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, was the result of Hamas’s strategy of hiding behind innocents.

Israel initiated a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel on October 7, killed some 1,200 people, the large majority of whom were civilians, committing severe atrocities including mass rape and torture, and taking captive some 240 hostages.

In a strong show of support for Israel, the German government on Friday warned against “political instrumentalization” of the genocide charge, as it announced it would intervene as a third party before the ICJ.

The United States has said it believes the South African case to be meritless, and a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the British leader thinks the case is “completely unjustified and wrong.” Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that his country also does not accept the premise of Pretoria’s accusations.

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