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Palin's Use of 'Blood Libel' Draws Ire

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin has spoken up about the Arizona shootings that killed six and seriously wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Palin expressed sympathy for those killed and injured, but spent most of the nearly eight minutes of her recorded video statement on Facebook denouncing those who have connected the shooting to heated political rhetoric.

Palin’s video quickly made headlines and lit up the blogosphere by invoking a controversial phrase.

"Journalists and pundits," she said, "should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

The phrase “blood libel” refers to a mythic accusation, dating to the Middle Ages, that Jews murder Christian children for their blood – to make Passover matzah, in some versions, and to drink it, among others.

References to the blood libel have been circulating for years, occasionally drawing howls but often not. Politico's Ben Smith and Salon's Steve Kornacki, make an attempt at tracing how the blood libel found its rhetorical groove, both on the left and the right.

Palin might well have had in mind a Wall Street Journal column on Sunday that featured the phrase in its headline: “The Arizona tragedy and the politics of blood libel." That piece, by University of Tennessee professor and Instapundit blogger Glenn Reynolds, has been widely cited by other bloggers in the last few days (but did not elicit the response that Palin has).

Jewish groups, locally and around the country, and various commentators have lined up to criticize or defend Palin’s use of the phrase.

The Anti-Defamation League did both. National Director Abraham Foxman issued a statement, saying  “Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks,” but adding, “Still, we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase 'blood-libel' in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others. While the term 'blood-libel' has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.”

More liberal Jewish groups were not so conciliatory. J Street, a Washington-based lobby, issued a statement, saying, “The last thing the country needs now is for the rhetoric in the wake of this tragedy to return to where it was before. We hope that Governor Palin will recognize, when it is brought to her attention, that the term 'blood libel' brings back painful echoes of a very dark time in our communal history when Jews were falsely accused of committing heinous deeds. When Governor Palin learns that many Jews are pained by and take offense at the use of the term, we are sure that she will choose to retract her comment, apologize and make a less inflammatory choice of words.”

New Republic writer Jonathan Chait writes, “Lord Help Me, I'm Defending Palin” atop a short piece saying, “she does have a basic point.” Harvard’s Allan Dershowitz more or less agrees: “The term 'blood libel' has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People, its current usage is far broader." 

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Comments [1]

Natalie from Brooklyn, NY

Sarah Palin (despite the 6 or 7 colleges she attended) is basically an uneducated woman but the phrase "blood libel" is unlikely to be one she would choose herself. I suspect her speech writer put it in and probably explained it to her. Shame on both of them. Words do matter and affected Jared Loughner to some extent although we do not know how much.

Jan. 14 2011 12:16 PM

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