— Benyamin Korn
I have an account of how it happened.
Now I am in no way a spokesman for, or employee of, Gov. Palin, nor is my organization, Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, connected to her organization in any way. But as the leader of a grassroots organization of American Jews who support Gov. Palin and her policies, I am acquainted with enough individuals close to her advisers, to have learned this story through what I regard as reliable sources.
First, we can discard the myths that have come to surround her choice of the phrase.
It certainly was not because she “does not know what a blood libel is, or does not know of their horrific history,” as David Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council has claimed. Gov. Palin is, in fact, surprisingly well-informed about Jewish history. Consider, for example, the thoughtful Facebook message she distributed last month, on the occasion of Hannukah:
“More than two thousand years after the Maccabees rebelled against their oppressors and reconsecrated their Holy Temple, the Jewish people continue to face threats to their existence, and they continue to persevere and overcome great odds. Today we should all recommit ourselves to ensuring that the miracle of a Jewish state endures forever. The dreidel is one of the most familiar symbols of Hanukkah, with Hebrew letters on it representing the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham — “a great miracle happened there.” Indeed a great miracle is still happening there. Todd and I wish the Jewish community a very Happy Hanukkah.
More after the jump.
Nor was it because she is insensitive to Jewish feelings, as some snarky bloggers have intimated. On the contrary, from her statements and actions, Gov. Palin has demonstrated time and again that she feels closer to Israel and the Jewish people than any American political figure in recent memory.
Anyone who saw the little Israeli flag perched behind her desk well before the 2008 election, or has noticed the pin of American and Israeli flags that almost constantly adorns her left lapel, despite the negligible number of Jewish voters in Alaska, knows of her special affection for the Jewish State and people. No one who has heard her speak with conviction of America as a Judeo-Christian nation, and of our Constitution as founded in Judeo-Christian principles, can doubt that.
So here is what happened.
Within hours of the Tucson killings, partisan pundits began circulating utterly unfounded accusations that Gov. Palin had somehow incited the violence. They pointed to a map on her web site that showed a target symbol on numerous congressional districts, including that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Democrats and Republicans have routinely used similar election-strategy maps for years. But Palin-bashers sensed an opportunity to score points, so they went for the jugular and falsely accused her of responsibility for the bloodshed.
For four days, Gov. Palin refrained from responding. Appropriately, she did not want to divert attention from the Tucson tragedy. But her very restraint became the new grounds for indecent political assault. Her detractors began claiming that her failure to respond indicated a guilty conscience. She was damned if she did, and damned if she did not.
Over the course of that tumultuous weekend following the shootings, Gov. Palin and her staff carefully reviewed the press commentary. They read the column by Glenn Reynolds in the Wall Street Journal, using the phrase “blood libel” to describe the attacks on her. Another prominent commentator had called the anti-Palin smears a “libel” against Palin and the conservative movement. So Gov. Palin and her advisors decided to incorporate the phrase into her well-modulated rejoinder.
Gov. Palin and her advisers were well aware that “blood libel” originated in medieval accusations against Jews. They were also well aware that the term has for years been used by commentators all across the spectrum, in America and abroad, in response to false accusations of committing or inciting murder. So Mrs. Palin and her staff had a reasonable expectation that this was a perfectly legitimate — if pungent — way to describe the false charges being leveled against her and her colleagues.
David Harris and several other Jewish opponents of Gov. Palin strenuously objected to her use of the term “blood libel.” That was their right. But what was not right was for they, or the news media, to rush to judgment that Jews were universally offended by Palin’s remark.
During the past ten days, I have spoke to numerous Jewish communal activists, rabbis, and just plain Jews. I have not found anyone who was sincerely offended by the term.
On the contrary, in recent days, numerous prominent Jews have publicly defended Gov. Palin’s choice of words, including former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, and Rabbi Shmuely Boteach — indisputably three important and influential voices in the American Jewish community. They recognize that the term enjoys a currency in modern usage which is non-specific to Jews, much as a “crusade against littering” or calling Las Vegas “the entertainment mecca of America” are presumed to be metaphorical. Only when Sarah Palin used the term did everyone go (nonviolently) ballistic.
One of our JewsForSarah readers put it this way: “A blood libel is an imputation of murder based not on what one has actually done, but based on who one is.” I can think of no better way to describe this whole sorry affair.
Benyamin Korn, former executive editor of the Jewish Exponent, is director of Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin.