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Sarah Palin and the “Blood Libel” Controversy

Posted by Shane Vander Hart on January 12, 2011

imageFormer Alaska Governor Sarah Palin responded today to the Tucson shooting which killed six and wounded fourtneen, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).  She also addressed the rhetoric from the media and the left who implied, if not directly said, she (along with the Tea Party and conservative radio hosts) were to blame for the shooting.  Despite evidence to the contrary.  In her remarks she used the term “blood libel.”

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.

Her use of the term “blood libel” has sparked another wave of criticism from the media and the left because of the terms historical origin dating back to the Middle Ages.  The term, in that context, refers to a prejudice that Jewish people used Christian blood in religious rituals.  This often led to persecution.

Sarah Palin wasn’t the first to link this term to rhetoric being thrown at her and other conservatives after the Tucson shooting, Glenn Reynolds in an op/ed at The Wall Street Journal published two days ago wrote:

So as the usual talking heads begin their "have you no decency?" routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?

To paraphrase Justice Cardozo ("proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do"), there is no such thing as responsibility in the air. Those who try to connect Sarah Palin and other political figures with whom they disagree to the shootings in Arizona use attacks on "rhetoric" and a "climate of hate" to obscure their own dishonesty in trying to imply responsibility where none exists. But the dishonesty remains.

Unlikely defenders have cropped up in light of this controversy.  Logan Penza (who is no Palin fan and he makes that abundantly clear) at The Moderate Voice writes:

Sarah Palin has it right — it is blood libel to accuse people of a heinous crime in the complete absence of any concrete evidence that they has any causal relationship to it.

Perhaps maybe we should listen to Jewish Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal, who defended Palin’s use of the 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.

Also you can see the term has a much broader context than what some on the left will admit.  One controversy is falling apart as the facts become known about Jared Lee Loughner, so we should have expected they would latch onto another one.

Shane Vander Hart is the editor of Caffeinated Thoughts and Caffeinated Theology.  He is also the Communication Director for the Preserve Innocence Initiative  of American Principles Project .  Feel free to follow him on Twitter and friend him on Facebook.

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One Response to “Sarah Palin and the “Blood Libel” Controversy”

  1. Joy said

    Thank you for posting that excellent, brief analysis of Palin’s proper & appropriate use of the term, “blood libel” – and, especially, quoting two excellent Liberal sources!

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