From the very upper crusty East Side of New York City came one rabbi’s bizarre defense of the call for wiping out Gaza by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. Rabbi Elchana Poupko’s “The Amalek Blood Libel”](https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-amalek-blood-libel/) appeared in the Times of Israel on Jan. 15. The next day, Israel’s Office of the President released a stripped-down version of the same nonsense.
Rabbi Poupko opens: Among South Africa’s “libelous and preposterous claims against Israel in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, one stands out to those with a religious and historical consciousness.” It turns out that invoking “Amalek” is simply “to implore us to remember, with no call to violence whatsoever.”
The rabbi never cites what Netanyahu actually said on national television, that Israelis are united against an enemy of incomparable cruelty. “They are committed to completely eliminating this evil from the world. You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember.” Netanyahu was clear that the reason to remember Amalek is that Amalek is pure evil and that it has to be eliminated from this world. The Bible story is clear: God ordered King Saul to wipe out man, woman and child, all of the Amalekites, but Saul made the mistake of only slaughtering almost all. Hence, a descendent of Amalek, Haman, would be born to attempt to wipe out the Jews, in what is the story of Purim.
Poupko explains that rabbis on the occasion of Shabbat Zachor (for remembrance) use the Biblical account of Amalek to invoke “the memory of the story of Amalek and the Holocaust,” so that congregants may remember the victims of the Holocaust and the obligation to remember “the sanctity of the lives” that were cut short. “Not once in the past 2,000 years of Jewish history … was the Biblical account of Amalek used to evoke revenge.”
Then, the simple question seems to be, why doesn’t Poupko find it horrid, even sacrilegious, for Netanyahu to break 2,000 years of tradition and invoke Amalek as he actually did, to incite the country and its soldiers to wipe out the seed of Amalek?
Poupko’s defense is laughable and insulting. He ignores that the “blood and soil” faction attempting to hijack Judaism, including what is gripping Netanyahu’s coalition, have used the story of Amalek, and many selected Biblical passages, to justify seizing all lands of “Eretz Yisrael”—and that includes by force. For more than 2,000 years, there have been such “blood and soil” types, e.g., in the Babylonian and Roman Empires, and in Hitler’s Germany.
Aside from Poupko’s willful deafness, there’s a second problem. His argument is that “Amalek” is “invoked to remind us of the ubiquitous nature of anti-Semitism”—that is, it reinforces victimhood based on the incurable, ever-lasting hostility of the world to Jews as a fact of life that Jews can only then orient their lives around.
At one point, Poupko properly cites that Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto used “Amalek” to describe the Nazis’ genocidal program. He quoted their Kol Hamidbar newsletter: “Many nations waged war against the Jews and did bad unto them, but Amalek, that is something absolutely different. Amalek put the destruction of Jews as a goal, a program, a method; premeditated, in cold blood, sadistically, according to a plan, organized, and with laws.” However, it’s bizarre to suggest that the Warsaw Ghetto resistance was invoking a remembrance for victims. They were identifying a genocidal enemy.
But Poupko proceeds to do exactly what he claims Netanyahu is not doing. He uses the Amalek-genocide case to label Hamas’ Oct. 7th attack as more than waging “war against the Jews,” but as a methodical plan to destroy all Jews, genocide. So, when he wants to, he has no problem invoking Amalek as an example of genocide, to be dealt assumedly as the Bible instructs. That section of the Bible is the bloodiest, most vengeful passage of a Bible with over 23,000 verses. It is the epitome of the much-maligned vengeful God, where the only solution to genocide is genocide, an eye for an eye. But every civilization has ugly revenge stories, and every civilization has scoundrels who ignore everything of truth and beauty in their culture, to seize upon such evil gems.
Rabbi Poupko however declares that his lesson is different—that Jews don’t seek revenge. Hence, he counsels renouncing revenge in favor of going about one’s business and living well. (Of some note, he may declare that this is his lesson, but he can only incite hatred for South Africa with his headline, that their filing to the ICJ constitutes a “blood libel.” Doing so, unmistakably tells Jews that South Africa is trying to incite murderous pogroms against Jews.) After his Gandhi-like line—"We never follow in the inhumane footsteps of those who committed the unthinkable against us."—he dares to assert: “This is true also concerning the horrors of October 7th.”
It turns out that the IDF is simply “rooting out Hamas infrastructure and dismantling the kingdom of terror Hamas has built in Gaza, seeking to bring back safety for everyone.… South Africa and other bad faith or ignorant actors’ misuse and misinterpretation of Jewish references to Amalek will not change reality….” Reality is split in two: Jews are supposed to do a lot of passive remembering of the senseless Amalekite-level hate that Hamas terrorists showed on Oct. 7th, while “Rabbi” Netanyahu’s unambiguous instruction to Israeli soldiers are to carry out a “holy mission” to exterminate the evil. Assumedly, that split world is okay if, as Poupko sees it, the first 25,000 killed are just part of a non-revengeful “rooting out.”
At best, Rabbi Poupko, can turn his congregants into perpetual victims accommodating a world where others carry out genocide against them. Meanwhile, “Rabbi” Netanyahu can turn his population into the destroyers of the Amalekites of the world. But as this author’s rabbi used to say: “When you’re given two bad choices, always pick the third.”