Netanyahu’s Response to the ICC Invokes Another Genocidal Biblical Reference


Jonathan Ofir | Mondoweiss - TRANSCEND Media Service

Netanyahu delivering the Hebrew statement addressing the ICC, 20 May 2024.
Screenshot from Israel PM YouTube Channel/Government Press Office

Netanyahu’s rant against the ICC quoted a biblical verse that warns against the dangers of not completely wiping out your enemy’s society. It doesn’t take much to figure out what this means for Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza. 

21 May 2024 – The news about the ICC case against Israel’s top leaders is everywhere. The court’s Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, wants to issue arrest warrants for PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (in addition to three top Hamas leaders) on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the biggest bombshell in the whole affair was that Israeli leaders’ impunity seems to be eroding.

Netanyahu, of course, was livid. It was the moral comparison with Hamas that seemed to have enraged him most, and he was, in fact, not alone — Israeli liberal leaders who have fiercely criticized Netanyahu for his conduct during the Gaza war now rallied to his defense, including opposition leader Yair Lapid, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and former PM Ehud Olmert.

But for Netanyahu, the ICC news was an occasion to once again make allusions to the biblical war of extermination against “Amalek.” This was the same biblical reference Netanyahu invoked in a statement on October 28 at the outset of the Israeli ground invasion in Gaza. “Remember what Amalek did to you,” he said, quoting the biblical verse where God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the enemy nation of the Amalekites down to their babies and animals. South Africa submitted Netanyahu’s statemet at the ICJ as evidence of Israel’s genocidal intent in Gaza.

This time, Netanyahu is using the same reference to rally the nation against its enemies — which apparently now includes the ICC — using coded language in the Hebrew version of his rant against the Court. Apparently, Netanyahu believes that if he makes his Amalek references more vaguely, that they will fly under the radar.

The version of the address that he delivered in English (text here) was also unhinged, calling the ICC application a “blood libel” and likening the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor to a Nazi judge. But that’s where the English version ended, with an invocation of the Holocaust in asserting that “never again is now.”

The Hebrew version was different. It ended with a Hebrew phrase — “Netzah Israel lo yeshaker” — which means “the Eternal One of Israel shall not lie.” This was the phrase he directed at “the lies at The Hague,” as he said in the statement. The significance of this phrase will not be apparent to the general public, as it draws upon loaded codes in both biblical and Zionist history and mythology.

The phrase itself comes from Samuel I, 15:29. Context here is everything.

King Saul was admonished by the prophet Samuel for not completely eradicating the Amalekites — Saul had spared their king Agag and “the best of the sheep and cattle,” which the Israelites “were unwilling to destroy completely.” According to the Bible, this level of annihilation was not enough and displayed King Saul’s supposed weakness. That is why the Prophet Samuel admonished the biblical king:

“The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

Saul seeks to defend his actions, but Samuel delivers an uncompromising message:

“You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” 

Saul seeks forgiveness, but Samuel delivers the unrepentant message:

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors — to one better than you. He who is the Eternal One of Israel shall not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”  

(Author’s emphasis)

This was the sentence Netanyahu used at the end of his Hebrew address reacting to the ICC application. In other words, he is sending a message that he will not make the same mistake as King Saul by not completely eradicating Amalek. He will go all the way in Gaza. He will continue into Rafah. He will “wipe off the seed of Amalek,” as Israeli soldiers were recorded chanting back in December.

But the importance of this verse is not just in its biblical significance — it has acquired contemporary relevance in Zionist history, signifying defiance against the powers that be. Israelis will know this from their Zionist history lessons.

Netzhah Israel lo yeshaker’ forms the acronym, “NILI.” NILI was a Zionist underground spy ring that operated during WWI between 1915 and 1917. It was an intelligence-gathering group that worked for the British against the Ottomans, who still ruled Palestine at the time. The Zionist movement’s alliance with the British at that critical historical juncture delivered the infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised the Zionists a “national home” in Palestine.

Netanyahu’s invocation of “the Eternal One of Israel shall not lie” isn’t just a biblical reference to the dangers of not going all the way in annihilating Amalek (who, in this instance, are the Palestinians that remain in Rafah and the rest of Gaza) — it is also a historical reference to the Zionist movement’s defiance of power when it is unfavorable to the Zionist cause, with the suggestion that it can be replaced in one way or another (much like the Ottomans were replaced by the British, with NILI’s assistance).

Netanyahu is a master at political survival, and he is also a master of rhetorical manipulation. He knows how to speak to his public, how to hide his codes, and how to press emotional buttons — for his religious-nationalist supporters in particular, but also for many other Zionists. Most of all, he has a shrewd sense of timing and is adept at exploiting international opprobrium to garner local support.

He now seems to be doing just that, enjoying the support of his usual critics and political rivals. Nothing unifies a nation quite like war, and today, that war is apparently against the ICC.


Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark.

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