Netanyahu shakes hands with an Israeli naval commander while surrounded by troops in black balaclavas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Rear Adm. David Saar Salama at the Ashdod Naval Base on October 29, 2023.

(Photo: Office of Benjamin Netanyahu)

Netanyahu Accused of 'Genocidal Intentions' in Gaza After 'Holy Mission' Speech

"The biblical reference to Amalek is genocidal," noted one theologian after the prime minister invoked an ancient enemy. "The Bible commands to wipe out Amalek, including women, babies, children, and animals."

Human rights defenders on Monday accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of an "explicit call to genocide" after he delivered a televised address calling Israel's imminent invasion of Gaza a "holy mission" and invoked an ancient mythical foe whom the God of the Hebrew Bible commanded the Israelites to exterminate.

Declaring the start of a "second stage" of Israel's war on Gaza—which he described as a "holy mission"—Netanyahu said that "you must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible."

According to the Hebrew Bible, the nation of Amalek was an ancient archenemy of the Israelites whose extermination was commanded by God to Saul via the prophet Samuel.

"The biblical reference to Amalek is genocidal... Why are Western politicians silent?"

"Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass," states the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 15:3.

The holy text further states that Saul infuriates God by sparing some of the Amalekites and their livestock.

"If it was not obvious from the carpet bombing, use of white phosphorus, and indiscriminate killing that the Zionist government of Israel [has] clear genocidal intentions, then the... reference to Palestinians as Amalek in Netanyahu's speech describing his plans for Gaza should be enough to convince you," British religious scholar Hamza Andreas Tzortzis wrote on social media Monday.

"The biblical reference to Amalek is genocidal. The Bible commands to wipe out Amalek, including women, babies, children, and animals," Tzortzis added. "Why are Western politicians silent? Stop the genocide now!"

As Truthout's Aidan Orly noted last week:

For centuries, Christian leaders have used Amalekite language to justify genocide, including against Native Americans and against Tutsis in Rwanda. Right-wing Jewish groups have also employed the Amalek trope. Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, likely influenced by Amalekite language employed by the far-right Kahane movement of which he was a part.

Orly added that "Israel's current minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is also associated with this movement, which has largely dissipated but is still technically outlawed in Israel as a terrorist group."

U.S. academic and Informed Comment publisher Juan Cole accused Netanyahu of declaring "a holy war of annihilation of civilians of Gaza."

"Netanyahu may have gestured to, and defiled, the Bible by excusing his genocide against the civilians of Gaza with reference to 1 Samuel. But his real bible is Revisionist Zionism with its fascist and explicitly colonial ideology," Cole wrote Sunday on Informed Comment, referring to a form of Zionism—the movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine—that seeks to conquer not only all of Palestine but also Jordan and parts of Lebanon and Syria.

"The Iron Wall is now advancing into Gaza, doing to small children and pregnant women what the authors of 1 Samuel in prosaic Babylon probably only dreamed of doing to the mythical Amalekites," Cole added.

Netanyahu isn't the only Israeli leader who has made what critics have called genocidal statement in recent weeks. Israeli President Isaac Herzog asserted earlier this month that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza, while Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to "eliminate everything" there.

Ariel Kallner, a member of parliament from Netanyahu's Likud party, urged a "Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of '48," a reference to the forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Arabs from Palestine during the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1947-48.

Tally Gotliv, another Likud lawmaker, demanded "not flattening a neighborhood," but "crushing and flattening Gaza without mercy."

Some U.S. Republicans have echoed Israeli leaders' statements, while President Joe Biden and members of his administration have been accused of denial of—and complicity in—genocide for casting aspersions upon official Palestinian casualty reports and providing diplomatic cover and billions of dollars in military aid for Israel's government.

The backlash against Netanyahu's comments came as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tanks and troops advanced on Gaza City as the relentless Israeli aerial and artillery bombardment continued.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israeli forces have killed 8,306 people in Gaza—including 2,136 women and 3,457 children—with more than 21,000 others injured, nearly half of all homes destroyed or damaged, and over 1.4 million people forced to flee for their lives. Israel has killed more children in the past three weeks than the combined number of children killed in all of the world's armed conflict zones since 2019, according to the charity Save the Children.

In the illegally occupied West Bank, at least 121 people have been killed and more than 2,000 others have been wounded since October 7, when Hamas-led fighters infiltrated southern Israel and killed over 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers, while taking more than 200 hostages.

More than 800 international lawyers, jurists, and legal scholars have signed an open letter stating that "we are compelled to sound the alarm about the possibility of the crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

Raz Segal, a leading Israeli Holocaust scholar, has called his country's assault on Gaza "a textbook case of genocide."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.