Why Sarah Palin was right to call it a ‘Blood Libel’

— Benyamin Korn

Why did Sarah Palin choose to use the term “blood libel” in her remarks several days after the Tucson shootings?  

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.

Sarah Palin Confuses “Blood Libel” with “Libel”

Sarah Palin was recently interviewed by Sean Hannity, another host on Fox News. Hannity asked her if she knew the meaning of the term “Blood Libel” which she used to describe efforts to link conservative rhetoric with the shooting of Jewish Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson:

Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused.

According to Google:

Blood libels are false and sensationalized allegations that a person or group engages in human sacrifice, often accompanied by the claim that the blood of the victims is used in various rituals and/or acts of cannibalism. The alleged victims are often children.

whereas Google defines “libel” as

a false and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person.

A Day of Memorials: To Blame or Not to Blame

— Dan Loeb

Today the world’s attention is focused on Tucson, Arizona where President Barack Obama will be speaking at a memorial in honor of the shooting victims of the shooting. (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself is recovering at the Tucson University Medical Center. In the photo to the left, her husband Astronaut Captain Mark Kelly is holding her hand.)

Sarah Palin: “America’s Enduring Strength”.

Many people, including Sarah Palin in this video, urge us to rise above politics and not look to lay blame for this attack any further than the gunman himself, using the epithet “blood libel” to describe the writings of her critics.

Again and again I have been told this.

However, I disagree.

During the summer of 2009, gun-rights activists started showing up at rallies and townhalls were Obama was speaking. One showed up in New Hampshire with a legal loaded handgun and a large sign reading “It is time to water the tree of Liberty” which is a reference to the following quote from Thomas Jefferson “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Someone else at the same town hall meeting was arrested for carrying an unlicensed pistol.

On August 18, 2009, CNN Reporter Ed Henry spotted two protesters with assault rifles at an event in Phoenix, Arizona where Obama was speaking at a pro-Healthcare rally. Why asked why he needed a rifle, the protestor responded “Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms.”

As Hal Masonberg said,

nothing spells true freedom like the ability to blow a man down in his tracks. Or to cause the President to fear that his life may be in danger. Or the lives of peaceful demonstrators at a rally.

No, nothing says freedom like physical intimidation.

And I was told to rise above politics and respect the first and second amendment rights of these protesters.

On March 24, 2010, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Tucson, Arizona district office and Rep. Louise Slaughter’s Niagara Falls, New York district office were attacked amidst death threats to a number of other Congressman involved in the passage of Health insurance reform. And I was told to rise above politics and not lay blame for these attacks.

Around the same time, Sarah Palin was hunting people figuratively. Gov. Palin created a website “Take back the 20” showing a map of the United States with cross-hairs targeting the 20 House districts won by McCain in 2008 but controlled by Democratic Representatives who voted for health insurance reform. The red cross-hair show targets already eliminated (legislators who were not seeking reelection). The exhortation “17 more to go” and the tweet “Dont’ Retreat, Instead – RELOAD” certainly invoke a threat of violence if necessary to turn the other cross-hairs red as well.

On June 12, 2010, Gifford’s challenger and tea-party supporter Jesse Kelly organized a fundraiser where his supporters could donate money in order to have a chance to symbolically “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office” by shooting a “fully automatic M16” at her effigy. And I was told to rise above politics and ignore these provocations.

The on June 17, Senate Candidate Sharron Angle said that the “Second Amendment in there for a good reason and … it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years…. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” And I was told to rise above politics and ignore these threats.

How long must I “rise above politics” and how many people must die before I can begin attributing blame?

Benyamin Korn who runs the group “Jews for Sarah” says Palin is not to blame since the “shooter’s animus [against Ref. Gabrielle Giffords] pre-dates Palin’s prominence.” However, I do not accuse Palin and her allies of driving Loughner insane.

Instead, I fear that there have always and will always be deranged people out there with dangerous ideas like Jared Lee Loughner had. The difference is that the rhetoric used by the right can validate the ideas already bouncing around in the head of a border-line personality like Loughner.

I do not think that Palin and her allies wanted Giffords dead. They did however want their own day in the sun, and the use of over-the-top rhetoric and images certainly accomplishes that in a way that calm and logic never can.

Moreover, these repeated tacit threats of violence create a chilling affect on our democracy, discouraging Democrats from speaking out, and limiting any real communication between politicians and their constituents.

If that is their goal, then whether Giffords survives or not, they have already won.

Jewish Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) Shot

Rep. Giffords recites portion of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the “right of the people peaceably to assemble”.

Marc R. Stanley and Marc Winkelman

We are stunned and horrified by the attack today on Gabby Giffords, Arizona’s first Jewish Congresswoman. Representative Giffords is a courageous and vibrant leader dedicated to advancing the causes and values we care so deeply about. Beyond being an advocate for health care reform and immigration reform, as well as the people of Arizona, she is our close friend. Gabby, those who were murdered and injured, and their families all remain in our thoughts and prayers.

The tragic attack on Representative Giffords, her staff, and citizens participating in the practice of democracy in Arizona is beyond reprehensible. One suspect, now in custody, may be directly responsible for this crime. But it is fair to say – in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric – that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired. Throughout the health care reform debate, we saw an ever-worsening level of political discourse – frequently pointing fingers at Democratic members of Congress who were supposedly directly threatening our country and our way of life. As elections approached, members of Congress increasingly received death threats, even as our public debate became more and more coarse.

Image from SarahPAC.com showing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as one of Sarah Palin’s targets.

As we learned in Israel through the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, words – and an eroding public discourse – can have profound consequences. The rhetoric of hate and anger must be banished from our political discourse before the next calamity takes place.

The loss of any life – and the injury of any American – is unacceptable. While we do not yet know exactly what motivated this deranged gunman, improving the tenor of our public debate can only help. It is up to us to act now. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

Video of Rep. Giffords response to vandalism at her office follows the jump.