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Palin Likely Didn’t Know ‘Blood Libel’ Meaning

And other opinions on the latest brouhaha

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Sarah Palin talks about the Tucson tragedy.(Vimeo/Politico)

The Obama administration has no comment on Sarah Palin’s invocation of the phrase “blood libel” to describe those who would link strident right-wing rhetoric to the tragic Tucson shooting. Fortunately, absolutely no one else has been so reticent.

I’ll briefly say that I’ve been persuaded that Palin may well have been unaware of the phrase’s origins—I have been surprised to hear how many people, Jews included, did not know its provenance as the myth that the Jews kill Gentile babies and use their blood to make Passover matzah. Palin was most likely responding to the phrase’s presence in right-wing circles to describe other things. However, and as contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg predicted at the outset of the controversy, everybody has since learned all about it: This was definitely, as they say, a teaching moment. (The Times even ran a handy primer.) Palin can plausibly claim that she was unaware of the hurt she was causing when she made her video before Wednesday morning; she cannot claim, however, that she is not cognizant of it now. It would be totally consistent for her, therefore, to regret her choice of phrase. I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, here is what everyone else has to say:

• James Besser notes that “blood libel” is frequently directed, particularly in Israel, against those who criticize the Jewish state. “Before we criticize,” he argues, “we should clean up our own house.” [The Political Insider]

• Plenty more groups and plenty more people had plenty more to say. [JTA]

• One group that came to the former governor’s defense was, unsurprisingly, Jews for Sarah. Yet it turns out its Website uses a foreign domain name, effectively hiding who is behind it. [Failed Messiah]

• Alan Dershowitz defends her. [Big Government]

• Pat Buchanan says her use of the phrase was “excellent.” [TPM]

• Rabbi Shmuley Boteach defends her. [WSJ]

• Rabbi Andy Bachman, whom I have always preferred to Rabbi Boteach anyway, has a much wiser take. [Water Over Rocks]

• The phrase (in this context) may have originated with the (Jewish) conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart. [SF Gate]

• Finally, go learn something: The Yeshiva University Museum, in Manhattan, has an exhibit, called Zero to Ten, that has original documents from the 1475 Trial of the Jews of Trent, in which the blood libel—the actual blood libel—was invoked. [YU Museum]

A Phrase With Roots in Anti-Semitism [NYT]
Why Sarah Palin’s Use of ‘Blood Libel’ Is a Great Thing [Goldblog]
Earlier: Palin and the ‘Blood Libel’

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I don’t see anything wrong if someone (not necessarily a Jew) uses that expression to confront absurd accusations, particularly if that someone is correct.

I agree with Gene. Also, Marc, how on Earth do you know that Palin “probably” didn’t know the meaning of the phrase? Did you ask her?

Your post does not mention that Robert Avrech – who is Jewish – used the phrase in his blog on January 10.

The essence of the historical blood libel was the exploitation of real or imagined tragedy to inflame popular sentiment against a group of people who are innocent. As applied to the recent tragedy in Arizona, the term is certainly hyperbole but is not, in my opinion, wholly misplaced.

Six innocent people were killed in cold blood and a promising young congresswoman clings to life. And all the liberal media could think about was “How can we pin this on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party?” Disgusting and contemptible.

How did Palin hit on that expression, and why didn’t an adviser tell her not to. Of course she considers herself to be so important maybe she thought she deserved the importance.

From the other two ignorant replies, they don’t understand either. That expression was used in the middle ages as a reason for mass killings of Jew, and the SPECIFIC OFFENSE (of several that were used for justification) was that the Jews took the children of Christians for sacrifice and DRANK THEIR BLOOD. It is a monstrous term, and if someone else used it they are equally disgusting.

Perhaps if she had use the N….. word it would have got more reaction even though it only became taboo a few years ago. I taught in a African American high school and they referred to each other with the word all the time. And as a reward for having marched with MLK I was made an Honorary N by the students. Yet now if I used it here they would cut it out.

Who knows what level of ignorance was at work here? Since she first entered public life, Governor Palin has demonstrated the utter lack of intellectual curiousity that would make it likely she has ever read a book on the history of Jewish people. That said, certainly somebody on her staff must have informed her to at least a superficial level what the phrase meant. In which case, I would ascribe it to the persecution complex Palin and her supporters embrace in that she likens criticism of her violent campaign rhetoric to one of the more pernicious of anti-Semitic myths.

No, I don’t think the Sarah Palin campaign is legally culpable for the Tuscon shooting, but I do think her campaign imagery warrants criticism and I suspect that she will be returning to violent rhetoric once she feels this story has blown over.

Oh, and isn’t it ironic that a Holocaust-denier like Pat Buchanan is endorsing Palin’s usage? No, not really.

Before I begin, I need to declare that I am a supporter of the Second Amendment… to Godwin’s Law.

How clever to side step the normal invocation of Godwin’s Law by resorting to a middle ages reference.

That aside, am I the only one who heard the latest word mangling of PUNDIT with PUNDANT. Everybody has a good laugh when she merges two distinct words like ‘refute’ and ‘repudiate’ to create a new word ‘refudiate’. Is it a lesser etymological error to merge two words of identical meaning?

While most of Europe was joyed at the election of Obama – many TV comedians publicly lamented the loss of GW from the airwaves… No doubt there are many TV producers in London, Berlin, Brussels and Stockholm eagerly awaiting the Palin-Bachmann ticket in 2012

ZevYoseph says:

“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.”

Well put, almost seems like comic genius…Way to throw the known to incite hate phrase right in the middle. It reminds me of hands drawing hands.

I believe she (or at least her speech writer) knew what she was saying… Aside from what got the national attention some ideas expressed in her speech are troublesome at best.

“a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.”

“Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.”

“President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state…”

All of these statements are not Jewish sentiments, and are not American sentiments. The motto for The State of America now is “do whatever you want as long as your neighbor doesn’t find out-so keep him as distant as possible.” What happened to “United we stand, divided we fall”? What happened to “My brothers keeper”, or “Love thy neighbor”?

I fully accept my responsibilty, that a society I am a part of gave birth to this tragedy.

If (or should I say when) the next attack takes place on American soil whoever is responsible will not see civilians as innocents. Like it or not the rest of the world views all of us together. As Americans, and as Jews, we need to start acting that way.

chumpsky says:

I thought THIS was a thoughtful article written by a kosher Jew:

judith says:

She out to read THE FIXER, by Malamud written in 1966. Actually many ought to be familiar with it.

Apparently writers at Wikipedia don’t know The original meaning of “Blood Libel” either, just as I didn’t until I did a search on the term. Check out “Blood Libel at Deir Yassin” on their website.

Sorry, “Professor Truth”, but I did not feel offended when Sarah Palin used that expression.

grampsny says:

Mrs. Palin shoots her mouth open with inappropriate phrases to garner media coverage. This is by design. She is not a stupid woman; just someone who needs to be noticed. She seems to care not who she injures by word or deed. Just as long as she is in the forefront of each and every news report. Forgive her, Lord, for she knows not what she purports to know.

Lisa Kaiser says:

I can’t believe that neither Sarah Palin nor any of the people who script her trash talk, knew the origin of the phrase. If she and staff she hires are so illiterate and ignorant, then clearly she is not qulaified to hold any elected office.

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Palin Likely Didn’t Know ‘Blood Libel’ Meaning

And other opinions on the latest brouhaha

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