The people who falsely and maliciously accused Sarah Palin of inciting Jared Loughner to murder now are criticizing Palin for using the term “blood libel.”
The term “blood libel” has it’s origins in the accusation in Europe (and more modern times, in the Middle East) that Jews use the blood of Christian (and Muslim) children to make matzoh.
Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress, who was responsible along with Markos Molitsas of DailyKos for spreading the connection between the Palin electoral target map and the shooting, smugly asserts that Palin just can’t take criticism:
“Indeed, Jews throughout America can join me in remembering when our ancestors fled Eastern Europe in order to live in a land where nobody would ever criticize us on television.”
In fact, as Jim Geraghty of National Review Online documents, the use of the term “blood libel” in political discourse is common both on the left and the right to describe incendiary false accusations which tend to blame a person for inciting violence and making the person a target of violence.
Much like the use of the term “holocaust” (e.g., nuclear holocaust) is not used in the strict sense of The Holocaust, the use of the term “blood libel” does not offend the traditional meaning of the term.
The looser, more modern usage of the term certainly seems to fit here.
Palin was not just “criticized on television,” she was accused of inciting murder even though there was and is no actual evidence that the electoral target map played any role in the Tucson shooting. The connection of Palin to the shooting was a smear by people who did not care about the truth.
Similarly, the smear has made Palin a target for hatred and violence, including widespread death wishes and threats: [Update: YouTube pulled the video. All of the screen shots were saved by a reader and are available here and at Patterico. The video now is embedded here.]
Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has a reasonable statement which criticizes the use of the term without hyperventilation and while recognizing that the common usage does not necessarily comport with historical usage (emphasis mine):
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.
I don’t have a problem with Palin’s use of the term; it seems to comport with the modern usage. Those feigning indignation simply seek to feign indignation.
Were the false accusations against Palin a blood libel? Or merely malicious, vindictive false accusations of complicity in murder made for the purpose of inciting hatred of Palin?
Update: Johnathan Chait at The New Republic, Lord Help Me, I’m Defending Palin (emphasis mine):
Okay, it’s a little over the top for Sarah Palin to accuse her critics of “blood libel.” But she does have a basic point. She had nothing to do with Jared Loughner. He was not an extremist who embraced some radical version of her ideas. And her use of targets to identify districts Republicans were, um, targetting is not exceptional or prone to incite anybody.
What’s happening is that Palin has come to represent unhinged grassroots conservatism, and people in the media immediately (and incorrectly) associated Loughner with the far right. Moreover, the Republican establishment understands her potential candidacy as a liability and is looking to snuff it out. So you have this weird moment where Palin is on trial for something she has no connection with at all.
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.
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