JBuzz, January 13, 2011: Sarah Palin Causes Uproar Invoking the Term ‘Blood Libel’ in Response to Backlash to Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona

JEWISH POLITICAL NEWS:

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS

THE HEADLINES….

Sarah Palin says in a video that she is not to blame for the shooting in Tucson.

  • Palin Joins Debate on Heated Speech With Words That Stir New Controversy: Sarah Palin broke her silence on Wednesday and delivered a forceful denunciation of her critics in a video message about the Arizona shootings, accusing commentators and journalists of “blood libel” in a frenzied rush to blame heated political speech for the violence.
    As she sought to defend herself and seize control of a debate that has been boiling for days, Ms. Palin awakened a new controversy by invoking a phrase fraught with religious symbolism about the false accusation used by anti- Semites of Jews murdering Christian children. It was unclear whether Ms. Palin was aware of the historical meaning of the phrase.
    “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said. “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 that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
    The video from Ms. Palin, running nearly eight minutes, was recorded in her home television studio in Alaska and released early Wednesday morning. Her words dominated the political landscape for nearly 12 hours before President Obama arrived in Tucson to speak at a memorial service honoring the six dead and 14 injured in the shootings…. – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’: The term blood libel is generally used to mean the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. That false claim was circulated for centuries to incite anti-Semitism and justify violent pogroms against Jews. Ms. Palin’s use of the phrase in her video, which helped make it rapidly go viral, is itself attracting criticism, not least because Ms. Giffords, who remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital, is Jewish. Reaction to Ms. Palin’s video was swift… – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Palin’s ‘blood libel’ remark overwhelms message: It was a well-crafted message preaching unity — and mined with a “blood libel” that blew it all apart. Sarah Palin’s video message Wednesday, her first substantial commentary since Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, at first appeared to succeed in reconciling two American precepts that have seemed irreconcilable in recent days: a common purpose and a rough- and-tumble political culture….
    The question, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, was whether using a charged term like blood libel reinforced Palin’s legitimate argument at the unfair targeting of the right wing in the days after the shooting – or whether using the term undercuts the point. “It distracts from her argument, which is thoughtful,” Jamieson told JTA. “If you are trying to get an audience to rethink, you don’t inject this particular historic analogy.”… – JTA, 1-13-11
  • Palin slammed for using ‘blood libel’ term: Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to decry blaming conservatives for the Arizona shooting has raised the ire of some in the Jewish community…. – JTA, 1-12-11
  • Sarah Palin’s ‘blood libel’ claim stirs controversy: Sarah Palin’s newest Facebook page video scolds critics who say her high-firepower rhetoric could have contributed to Saturday’s Arizona shooting rampage. But her use of an emotionally-charged phrase has spawned a controversy all its own.
    Palin called herself the victim of “blood libel” — the original term for blaming Jews for the death of Jesus and an anti-Semitic rallying call that led to countless deaths of Jews, primarily in Europe and Russia.
    Many rabbis called her remarks insensitive, ill-chosen and offensive to Holocaust survivors and other victims of anti-Semitism. Palin’s new video “was like waving a red flag,” said Rabbi David Sapperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “It concerns us. It escalates the intensity of the rhetoric, rather than calming it down. It seems to me she’s missed an opportunity at real leadership.”
    Palin aide Rebecca Mansour said the former Alaska governor stands by her video. “There has been an incredible increase in death threats against Gov. Palin since the tragedy in Arizona, since she’s been accused of having the blood of those victims on her hands,” Mansour said. “When you start to accuse people of having the blood of innocent people on their hands, it incites violence.”… – USA Today, 1-12-11
  • ‘Blood libel’ has particular, painful meaning to Jewish people: The phrase used by Sarah Palin against her detractors usually refers to the false accusations made for centuries against Jews, often to malign them as child killers — and sometimes leading to massacres of their communities.
    In saying her critics “manufactured a blood libel,” Sarah Palin deployed a phrase linked to the false accusations made for centuries against Jews, often to malign them as child killers who coveted the blood of Christian children.
    Blood libel has been a central fable of anti-Semitism in which Jews have been accused of using the blood of gentile children for medicinal purposes or to mix in with matzo, the unleavened bread traditionally eaten at Passover. The spreading of the blood libel dates to the Middle Ages — and perhaps further — and those allegations have led to massacres of Jewish communities for just as long.
    The term blood libel carries particular power in the Jewish community, though it has taken on other shades of meaning. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday that “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.” LAT, 1-12-11
  • Sarah Palin’s charge of ‘blood libel’ spurs outcry from Jewish leaders: Sarah Palin’s remarks Wednesday in which she accused critics who would tie her political tone to the Arizona shootings of committing a “blood libel” against her have prompted an instant and pronounced backlash from some in America’s Jewish community. The term dates to the Middle Ages and refers to a prejudice that Jewish people used Christian blood in religious rituals…. – LAT, 1-12-11
  • Palin death threats rise to unprecedented levels: Death threats to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have increased to unprecedented levels in the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, an aide tells ABC News…. – The Daily Caller, 1-13-11
  • Krauthammer on debating Palin’s use of ‘blood libel’: ‘Have we completely lost our minds?’: It has been over four days since a shooting in Tucson that claimed six lives and injured 14, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. However, one of the dominating themes of the day is a debate over former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s response. On Fox News Channel’s Wednesday broadcast of “Special Report with Bret Baier,” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer questioned the sanity of this debate, which involved Palin accusing “journalists and pundits” of manufacturing “a blood libel.”
    “[T]he fact is that even the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League in expressing a mild rebuke to Palin for using this admitted itself in its statement that the term ‘blood libel’ has become part of English parlance to refer to someone falsely accused,” Krauthammer said. “Let’s step back for a second. Here we have a brilliant, intelligent, articulate, beautiful, wife, mother and congresswoman fighting for her life, in a hospital in Tucson, and we’re having a national debate over whether the term ‘blood libel’ can be used appropriately in a non-Jewish context? Have we completely lost our minds?”… – Daily Caller, 1-13-11

QUOTES

     

  • Sarah Palin: America’s Enduring Strength: ….The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.
    Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. 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.
    There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure…. – Sarah Palin on Facebook, 1-12-11Video
  • The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that, in part, came to Ms. Palin’s defense, Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said in a statement: “It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder, Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks.” But Mr. Foxman added that “we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood-libel.'” He called it a phrase “fraught with pain in Jewish history.” – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Benyamin Korn, Director Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin: “Sarah Palin got it right, and we Jews, of all people, should know a blood libel when we see one. Falsely accusing someone of shedding blood is a blood libel, whether it’s medieval Christians accusing Jews of baking blood in Passover matzahs, or contemporary Muslim extremists accusing Israel of slaughtering Arabs to harvest their organs, or political partisans blaming conservative political figures and talk show hosts for the Tucson massacre.”
  • David Harris, president of the National Democratic Jewish Council, in a statement: “Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a ‘blood libel’ against her and others. This is of course a particularly heinous term for American Jews, given that the repeated fiction of blood libels are directly responsible for the murder of so many Jews across centuries — and given that blood libels are so directly intertwined with deeply ingrained anti-Semitism around the globe, even today.”
  • Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice: “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.”
  • Benyamin Korn: Op-Ed: Blame real inciters, not Palin and Tea Parties: Extreme rhetoric can inspire extreme behavior, even violence. But there isn’t a shred of evidence that anything that anyone on the political right — or left — said or wrote inspired Jared Lee Loughner to launch his deadly rampage in Arizona…. – JTA, 1-13-11
  • Noam Neusner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush in Pundit Wire: “The term ‘blood libel’ is so unique, and so tinged with the context of anti-Semitism, that its use in this case — even when Ms. Palin has a legitimate gripe — is either cynically calculated to stimulate media interest or historically illiterate. It is therefore distracting to Ms. Palin’s underlying message, which is one of sympathy for the victims and outrage that she and others are being accused of inspiring a mass murderer.”

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Alan Dershowitz Defends Sarah Palin’s Use of Term ‘Blood Libel’: 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. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term. – Big Govenment, 1-13-11
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