Palin use of ‘blood libel’ unsettling to Jews

January 12, 2011

Four days after an assassination attempt critically wounded a Jewish
congresswoman and killed six others, Sarah Palin on January 12 accused
"journalists and pundits" of manufacturing a "blood libel" that seeks to
link her and other conservatives to the massacre.

The "blood
libel" language unsettled many Jewish groups, who say the term has been
used for centuries to justify persecution of Jews.

"Blood libel"
is often traced to a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jews
calling for Jesus' death say, "His blood be on us and on our children!"
(27:25). Later it related to the notion among some Christians that Jews
used the blood of non-Jews, particularly Christian children, in their
rituals.

In the eight-minute video statement Palin expresses
sympathy for the victims and their families and goes on to object to
"the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame
for this terrible event."

Palin has been widely criticized for
showing a map with some congressional districts—including the district
of Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in
Tucson—marked by the crosshairs of a gun. Last March, Giffords herself
warned that such imagery has "consequences."

Without mentioning
the crosshairs map, Palin said it is "reprehensible" to try to forge a
link between conservative politics and the deadly shooting. "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," she said.

While
Palin was not the first to use the term following the
shooting—Instapundit blogger Glenn Reynolds wrote about "The Arizona
Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel" in the Wall Street Journal on
January 10—her celebrity brought it to national attention.

Within
hours, "Blood Libel" and "blamePalin" were trending on Twitter, and
several Jewish groups called Palin's language troubling and
inappropriate.

Palin, interviewed January 17 on Fox News Channel,
rejected suggestions that she did not understand the historical
significance of the phrase.

"Blood libel obviously means being
falsely accused of having blood on your hands and in this case, that's
exactly what's going on," she said. Palin said she agreed with calls for
civility. She said that "peaceful dissent and discussion about ideas,
that is what makes America exceptional."

Abraham Foxman, head of
the Anti-Defamation League, supported Palin's right to defend herself
against critics who sought to tie her to the Arizona shooting but said
her use of a phrase "so fraught with pain in Jewish history" was
unfortunate.

"We hope that Governor Palin will recognize . . .
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," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of J Street, a
left-leaning lobby group.

The Republican Jewish Coalition did not
respond to requests for comment, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
(R.,Va.), the country's highest-ranking Jewish elected official, did not
comment.

Jonathan Sarna, the dean of Amer­ican Jewish historians
at Brandeis University, said the term traces its roots to the claims
that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzo, which he
noted is ironic since Jewish law prohibits the use of blood in rituals.

In
Israel, the term is used to describe "any claim that is totally without
foundation," which might be a good debate tool but one that ignores the
term's historic violent origins, he said.

"To hear the term applied
by a deeply believing Christian is a first for me," Sarna said. "It
totally removes the accusation against Jews from all of its original
horrific original context."  —RNS