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Palin and the ‘Blood Libel’

Why she meant it, and why it’s the ADL’s turn to talk

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Sarah Palin speaking about the Giffords shooting.(Vimeo/Politico)

“Journalists and pundits,” Sarah Palin says in her video this morning, “should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.” The “blood libel” has generally described the specific, centuries-old myth that Jews kill Gentile babies and use the blood to make Passover matzah; it has been an historic (if false) justification for violence against Jews. “Why Jews Hate Palin” indeed. (Actually, the author of that essay, which defended Palin from Jewish “hatred,” Tweeted this morning of the remark, “shows her inflam. tendency=critics pt. she’s not serious, cert. not pres. – more G.Beck than Reagan.”)

Two quick points. While, as some conservatives have rushed to point out, the phrase has been used in other contexts, it is asking a lot to believe that Palin—who we know has several prominent Jewish advisers—did not have someone tell her what “blood libel” actually means. The phrase “blood libel” in relation to some pundits’ accusation that right-wing rhetoric played a role in the Tucson shooting had been out there for two days by the time this video dropped—it appeared to debut in this Wall Street Journal column (which I linked to on Monday morning); she had ample time to learn all about it. Add to this her known penchant for grabbing headlines with a provocative soundbite, and you are looking at some extremely strong evidence that she knew exactly what she was doing.

Second, here, if ever, were a chance for the Anti-Defamation League to step up. It is still perceived as a nonpartisan, above-the-fray validator when it comes to adjudging questions of anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish rhetoric, and the like. Were the organization or its head, Abraham Foxman, to come forward and unequivocally condemn Palin’s invocation of the phrase, then real pushback could ensue (Rep. Eric Cantor, for example, is currently not commenting, but one can’t imagine that will be sustainable if the ADL speaks up). ADL: Your move.

UPDATE: Foxman’s statement after the jump, in which he says she should have chosen a different phrase.

It is unfortunate that the tragedy in Tucson continues to stimulate a political blame game. Rather than step back and reflect on the lessons to be learned from this tragedy, both parties have reverted to political partisanship and finger-pointing at a time when the American people are looking for leadership, not more vitriol. In response to this tragedy we need to rise above partisanship, incivility, heated rhetoric, and the business-as-usual approaches that are corroding our political system and tainting the atmosphere in Washington and across the country.

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, and we agree with her that the best tradition in America is one of finding common ground despite our differences.

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.

Sarah Palin Charges Critics With ‘Blood Libel’ [Politico]
Related: The Arizona Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel [WSJ]

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The ADL ought to get involved? Is this serious? Apparently so. Maybe it’s a chance to discuss what the blood libel is, as opposed to another lame excuse for liberals to beat Sarah Palin (no enemy of the Jews) with. ADL should be careful in its approach in order to keep its reputation and ability to speak out on issues that matter.

Michael says:

Mr. Tracy,

Why exactly should this be a chance for the Anti-Defamation League “to step up”? In what way is this a defamation of, or threat to, the Jewish community?

Liberal Jews are under no obligation to like Sarah Palin or agree with anything she says. But do they seriously fear a revival of “a justification for violence against Jews”?

All the Best,
Michael Nahum

Sarah Palin, who I don’t believe is presidential timber, is no enemy of the Jews, and her use of the term warrants a mild admonition at most, especially when Jews and Israel are subject to false and malice-laden ascriptions of slaughter and oppression from self-described friends.

We must be the only people in the world who are told that we should repudiate our friends, as a matter of principle. Where will that leave us? With staunch defenders like Peter Beinart?

Marc, please don’t perpetuate this disgrace. This event is not about Sarah Palin, and it is just horrendous to keep looking for a pretext to make it so.

You should be more worried about the rev wright’s of the world and the liberals who smeared joe lieberman with holy joe and put him in scarface in the 2006 campaign.

Jews in israel talk about blood libels from the arabs and iranians against them.

Palin didn’t sit and listen to rev wright for 10 years slam jews.

Shame on you self hater who supports the left who is the biggest threat to jews and I am a jew who have had experience with this.

As usual, ADL spends more words attacking liberals than antisemites.

“Sarah Palin, who I don’t believe is presidential timber, is no enemy of the Jews”

Right. You mean she’s pro-Likud. In reality, she practices a strain of Christianity that believes we as Jews are stage players in their apocalyptic drama and we will either be converted or sent to hell.

But, you know, she’s no “enemy of the Jews.” I tire of Jewish ignorance of the nature of Evangelical Christians beliefs about us.

Sorry to add to your burden of weariness, great sage, but I will happily take someone who believes that our destinies will ultimately be decided by the return of the Messiah over the self-anointed on the Left whose utopian schemes mandate the eradication of Israel.

There is a saying that I think originates in the Talmud that you should never use someone’s generosity against them. It’s worth reflecting on.

Really — Jews own the “blood libel” label and anyone who adopts it to describe something very like it disrespects us? A truly deranged person sheds innocent blood in Arizona and Sarah Palin, tea partiers, republicans and conservatives are blamed for it and this isn’t a blood libel? It’s certainly at least a lie, but something more than that, and blood libel seems to fit. Is there a better descriptive phrase?

Dan Klein says:

@fw– wait, zionism isn’t utopian anymore? When did we have that meeting?

You must have missed the conference call.

Peter W. says:

Alan Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat, defended Sarah Palin, he said: “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.” See:

dani levi says:

Please, have the rifle jam, all the kids are eaten by the Grizzly, Tod drives his snowmachinething into a tree and Palin ends up doing MILF porn in Miami. please.

the ADL has been failing in some very major ways, and to minimize her invocation of a genocidal rationale as “a phrase fraught with pain in Jewish history” is reprehensible. That “phrase” underlies 1000 years of human rights atrocities, and the ADL needs to respond with courage and leadership.

Palin is not our enemy, she’s just a schmuck…a schmuck with public platform, and a team who don’t care to do their research before pressing play/send/tweet/share…but, this has pretty much always been her M.O. – has it not? Why should we be surprised?

What has become perfectly obvious to me is that Sarah Palin has caused fear of a successful campaign for PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. Most of the above commentary, with the exception of Nahun, comes from the neurotic and hysterical Jewish people who voted for someone who had become a devotee of one Reverend Wright over a period of 20 years. 78% of the Jews voted for Obama. Sarah Palin is no threat to the Jewsish people or Israel. Just the opposite. She has shown herself to be a reliable supporter of Israel. So what is the problem; that she used the phrase blood libel? So What? There are probably no more than 10 people who have not heard that phrase or don’t know its meaning. The fact of the matter is that the JEWS are complete irrational when it comes to the Democratic Party. If G-d himself declared himself to be a Republican the Jews would still vote Democrat.

R. Lynn says:

She could have used 1000 other terms. Myth, rumor, unproven notion. But overall, this speech was awful.

For one thing, she completely contradicted herself.

“Acts of monstrous crime begin on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them. Not collectively. Not with those who LISTEN TO talk radio….BUT, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn…”

Make up your mind, Palin Camp–do crimes begin and end with the criminal, or do journalists and pundits contribute to them?

This woman is a creature. She makes me sick, she is good to no one but herself.

Paul Brandon says:

To those who claim Palin as a friend:
With friends like that you don’t need enemies.

ADL’s statement was weak. Plain and simple.

Oh, also one more thing, Marc: I don’t believe Palin’s Jewish advisors would have told her *not* to use that term. We’ve been dumbed down that much.

yisroel says:

I suppose the term “witch hunt” should also be removed from our dialect.

Really? I could not believe what I read here. The stupidity abounds. Palin was not the fault of what happened in AZ, but yet people had the audacity to put blame on her. I believe she had every right to defend herself. Where is all this hatred coming from anyway? So she ran for Vice President, does that mean she is bad? I think not. People, like Mark Tracy really need to look within their soul and find where this gross exacerbation is coming from. I am Jew, I do not take offense of Sarah Palin using the term blood libel; after all, we do not own this saying. I do not believe no other human can use this term. People, let us get real here. Palin gets hurt by untruths, and people throw more horrible, and libel accusations at her. What does this say about us as a people? We all know very well what it is like to be blamed for everything. Shame on those who do this to others. Unless you know Sarah Palin personally, do not pass judgment on her, least you be judged also.

January 13, 2011 B”H Well of course there’s a lesson to learn from the projections but void of introspection presumptions of knowing what someone is by reading what is said about him by those who access the media. One thought recurs to my wishing to have my finger on the pulse. Are the offers of paradise so proven that we sacrifice our discoursive tendencies on the altar of convenient apathy? Who am I to judge whether the death of a martyr saves live no less than that of soldiers on the front lines in any battlefield. Who to judge what Jewish people are busy doing when they should be observing Layl haSeder and provocations abusing our excruciating right to feel oppressed as though no blood libel like my blood libel cha cha cha. In fact calumny is likened to murder – spilling blood, verily the person offended may suffer ostracization paranoia, the offender considered a threat to whom spoke, and the listener laden with enough hatreds already. We should cringe with pain when we hear of suffering inflicted on any member or format of Jewish identification, pray for their well-being, and arouse consciousness – yes to uncover every leaf and ponder any association whether faithful to urge forward the issues of importance to the United International Distinctively Jewish People, and to whomever you are I’m wishing you a great night – I got a million of them! Maybe we need to focus on the communities in which we have persons with governmental authority and offer secure freedom whenever they pass through our midst. Perhaps this is a cry of our forefather to strengthen the hospitality of each locality; to create community projects to become involved in one another’s lives. We most certainly can organize with our goyish neighbors to take back the streets for the play of youngsters and the planting of vegetable harvests. We don’t have to go just on rapping every moment to pass the boring silence we can just be cool and let the boring pass over while the matzahs get commemorated

Rihht on Sarah Palin you will be Presidential.That will begood. for the USA and Israel and the world

Right on SARAH PALIN and you will be Presidential.Itwill begood for the USA and Israel and the world.G-D bless you

donyel ben aharon says:

She trivializes the term blood libel by applying it to herself. Also, please spell the word as pundints, as the ignoramus pronounces it.

Milton says:

Sarah Palin has moved the attention away from herself to the Jews. Isn’t that what all faschists do?

Poor Sarah,She made a mistake,lets put it behind us,we all know that she is not against Jews, and intended no harm.
Aubrey Massias

As the article writer, Marc Tracy wrote, “Add to this her known penchant for grabbing headlines with a provocative soundbite, and you are looking at some extremely strong evidence that she knew exactly what she was doing.” Once again she is trying to ramp up the airwaves and create a media event that makes her personally look like a victim. When will she learn that it isn’t about her? It’s about a horrible assassination attempt and massacre which may or may not have been induced by strong political rhetoric, whether the shooter was mentally ill or not. If she was going to get on the airwaves and make a statement at this time she needed to use words that would show unity rather than promote division. Time and again she is incapable of doing that, so the only conclusion left is that she purposely wants to sow disunity in a time of mourning and excite her base – which clearly she has from some of the comments above in these replies..

What a load of Barbara Streisand!! We don’t own the label ‘blood libel’.
My father survived the torture of Hitler’s death camps;I personally survived both Hitler and Stalin before finding refuge in the US. Some of my ancestors and those of many of yours survived numerous pogroms by hordes of savages spouting blood libels. That does not give us ownership rights to that phrase.
Genocide has been done to many others and libels have been used to justify those savage acts, also.
Let’s grow up and stop whining about our unique suffering; it’s horrible to the extreme but it isn’t that unique. Can you say Rwanda; can you say Kosovo? Can you get in touch with your Jewish compassion?
Can you grow up enough to stop sounding like a 3-year-old — whining that another child is playing with his/her toy?

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

When did Abe Foxman ever come down on any democrat? Sarah Palin is no threat to the Jews. Better Foxman go after the real anti-semites, but they are democrats and he won’t do that.

In reality, a small office is for discrimination against Jews. The reporters should stop going to Foxman for a reply to anything that refers to Jews.

Though Jews still give money to the ADL thinking it is only an organization for discrimination against Jews. the ADL defends Palestinians and all ethnics so Jews put your money back in your pants. Abe Foxman is not our defender.

The Republican Jewish Coalition puts out more press releases in our defense than the ADL. I am a member.

lazer wolf says:

I’m not sure the last time I’ve heard anyone use the term blood libel outside of discussions related to Mel Gibson’s beliefs. And in my corner of the world this is by no means common parlance. It’s not like Britney Spears uses the phrase in her work. It was an unfortunate choice of words by Palin, no doubt, but those words do resonate with Jewish people, right or wrong. That she chose to use those words to paint herself the victim when real people had been murdered? That’s even more unfortunate. Someone needs a better speech writer who can make better use of religious code words. Anyone in the Palin’s camp have Ralph Reid’s number?

Richard Prystowsky says:

I have just three points to make:

1. I don’t think that we advance the conversation or provide much in the way of healing and understanding by engaging in sweeping generalizations about each other (“Liberals are doing such and such”; “Conservatives are doing XYZ”). Let’s please concentrate on analysis and argumentation, regardless of who is making the argument(s).

2. The phrase “blood libel” has very specific socio-cultural and political roots. Despite its more widespread use today, given its etiological moorings with respect to helping to lay the groundwork for violence against Jews, it would be helpful to know why Ms. Palin or her advisors chose this particular phrase–and not some other phrase–for her carefully planned defense.

3. Although we must be careful not to posit reductive and inaccurate causative value to the events in question here, I would hope that we would agree that speech can have serious consequences, even if these consequences are not so easily understood in precise, causative ways. If nothing else, vitriolic speech can help to establish conditions of possibility for and acceptance of (or even immunity to) violence. In extreme cases, the courts have held individuals responsible for speech uttered by these individuals that was determined to have put others at “imminent risk.” I am not suggesting that Ms. Palin’s rhetoric falls into this category; rather, I am suggesting that it would be naive for us to believe that vitriolic speech is utterly disconnected from problematic actions that are or seem related to the sum and substance of that speech. Again: I’m not talking about reductive causality; rather, I am talking about a more complicated interdependence of speech and action.


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Palin and the ‘Blood Libel’

Why she meant it, and why it’s the ADL’s turn to talk

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