Sarah Palin's 'Blood Libel' Charge Stirs New Controversy

Screenshot of Sarah Palin's "blood libel" video. i i

hide captionScreenshot of Sarah Palin's "blood libel" video.

Sarah Palin's Facebook page
Screenshot of Sarah Palin's "blood libel" video.

Screenshot of Sarah Palin's "blood libel" video.

Sarah Palin's Facebook page

Perhaps the surest thing to say about the reaction to Sarah Palin's video response to charges that her edgy political rhetoric contributed to an atmosphere that made the Tucson shooting more likely is that the reaction to it will be about as polarized as to anything else the former Alaska governor says or does. Her supporters will defend it, her detractors lambaste it.

One of its more interesting aspects is her use of the term "blood libel" in this passage:

If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

Needless to say, she probably couldn't have chosen a more explosive term than blood libel. That term has been used to describe false and beyond-the-pale charges throughout history that Jews committed unspeakable crimes.

The charges were used to justify atrocities against Jews over centuries.

Obviously, some people who happen to be Jewish are expressing their dismay that she would go there.

Here's part of a statement from J Street:

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.

The J Street statement suggests that Palin didn't know the history of the term. But that's easily arrived at on Google so it's hard to believe that no one involved in the creation of the video was aware of the past usages of the term.

And here's part of what Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice, said in a statement:

We are deeply disturbed by Fox News commentator Sarah Palin’s decision to characterize as a “blood libel” the criticism directed at her following the terrorist attack in Tucson. The term “blood libel” is not a synonym for “false accusation.” It refers to a specific falsehood perpetuated by Christians about Jews for centuries, a falsehood that motivated a good deal of anti-Jewish violence and discrimination. Unless someone has been accusing Ms. Palin of killing Christian babies and making matzoh from their blood, her use of the term is totally out-of-line...

Ms. Palin clearly took some time to reflect before putting out her statement today. Despite that time, her primary conclusion was that she is the victim and Rep. Giffords is the perpetrator. As a powerful rhetorical advocate for personal responsibility, Ms. Palin has failed to live up to her own standards with this statement

Palin isn't the first to use the "blood libel" term in recent times or even in the last week, as the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler notes in his blog The Fact Checker. He points to Jim Geraghty who in the National Review Online cites a number of instances of its usage in recent years by people on the right and left alike.

While that is true, Palin is so high-profile and polarizing, and her use comes at a time of such high raw emotion, that it's bound to be more controversial than all the other uses of it combined.

One irony in all this is that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish and it's the born-again Christian Palin who is claiming to be the victim of a blood libel.

It's an odd tactic to respond to one controversy by starting another. But there you have it.

(This post was revised since it was first posted to add the paragraphs about the other uses of "blood libel.")

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