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Palin and the ‘Blood Libel’

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

Marc Tracy
January 12, 2011
Sarah Palin speaking about the Giffords shooting.(Vimeo/Politico)
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.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.