Blood Libel: You keep using that word...

Jan 12 2011 Published by under Politics

Sarah Palin jumped the bigotry shark today, and bloggers are trying to explain just how offensive her comments really are.  Mark CC of Good Math Bad Math gives a terrific summary, but I can't help but give my take on this.

The shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and 19 others happened in a particular time and place, and history will look back at this context in trying to understand the event.  What Sarah Palin and others in the New Right are arguing is that context is meaningless; that their inflammatory, violent rhetoric is irrelevant (and that the left is just as bad, which is patently absurd---we hate guns, remember?).  This anhistoric view is typical, and is typified by Palin's cry of "blood libel".

Let's summarize events:

  • Right wing reactionaries use gun rhetoric and Christian imagery and language to speak to their base, including such statements as "don't retreat, reload", and posting pictures of "targeted" districts like Rep. Giffords' with gun sights on them.
  • Giffords is gunned down by a presumed nut-job who easily purchased a firearm and ammunition, a "right" favored by the New Right.  He drew and fired on her point blank range, rendering idiotic any claims that being personally armed could have helped her.
  • "Blood libel" is a specific term referring to anti-Jewish violence in Europe.  Christians claimed that Jews murdered Christian children for their blood, and Christians would use this to justify genocidal violence over the course of centuries, and culminating in the Shoah (Holocaust).  The Nazi's did not always use blood libel imagery, but they certainly encouraged it in their European collaborators, especially in Poland and Russia.
  • Giffords is a Democrat and Jewish.
  • Palin is a Republican and Christian.
  • Palin claims that calling her out on her violent rhetoric as having anything to do with political violence is "blood libel".
  • Irony meter explodes.

Palin, who favors eliminationist rhetoric directed at, in this case, a liberal Jewish Congresswoman, absolves herself of any responsibility for the violence just happens to bear close resemblance to her rhetoric.  Part of her reasoning is that it's just rhetoric, and the guy was a nut.  She then claims harm from the rhetoric leveled against her.  Irony meter reassembles and explodes again.

I'm not one to see an anti-Semite behind every door, but this is blatantly anti-Semetic rhetoric, giving a whole new appearance to the attack.  Palin's claims of not knowing what "blood libel" is are meaningless, as she has handlers who, in contrast to their boss, are educated.

They should all be ashamed.

But of course, they have no shame.

30 responses so far

  • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi says:

    1.7% of the US population*
    American Holocaust*
    controlled media*
    Blood Libel

  • The Blind Watchmaker says:

    Speechless.

  • becca says:

    In fairness to Palin, there seems to be a thread of thinking among certain evangelical Christians that 'the chosen people' have gotten a bit of a bum deal (they need us to rebuild the temple, after all). IF Palin is this kind of Christian, there's a good chance at some point or another she's sat through a sermon or two about Mathew 27:25 that attempts to exculpate the Jews. If you were a certain type of right-wing Christian, attempting to argue in favor of personal responsibility and against the guilt of crowds, using this example might make sense if you are also trying to place the blame squarely on Loughner.
    Is it in astonishingly, breathtakingly poor taste? Sure. Is the actual *argument* based on flawed assumptions? You betcha. *rolls eyes*
    However, are charges of anti-semetic rhetoric just going to make her think people are trying to Impinge Free Speech and convince her further that liberals will make up anything they can to make Sarah Palin seem like a hateful, malicious, evil sack of shit? Most likely.

    • PalMD says:

      Meh. Sounds apologist.

      • becca says:

        Meh. I'm still offended and I still think she should apologize.

        But I was entirely unaware of the bible connection. It wasn't until Ed Yong posted a link on twitter to a Guardian article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/12/blood-libel-sarah-palin-arizona) that I even questioned whether I might have missed that dog whistle (keeping in mind, there may be multiple layers of dog whistles). I think it's a bit like the phrase 'worldview'. It seemed totally innocent until somebody explained it. And then I could understand what *she* thought she was saying (and what most people with exposure to her particular strain of Christianity would hear it as).

  • UNRR says:

    Rarely have I seen a post that includes so many false assumptions and an almost complete lack of logical reasoning. But thanks for giving me something to post about.

  • idlemind says:

    This isn't the first time the term "blood libel" has been (mis-)appropriated, as various right-wing pundits are quick to point out. It's been used across the political spectrum as a metaphor for vicious rumormongering leading to violence against a particular group. However inappropriate this may be, there is a difference in this particular case that those pundits seem to ignore: no one to speak of is attempting to incite violence against Palin and her followers.

    It's a huge difference. I'll repeat, I'm not trying to condone the appropriation of the term. But it seems to me that this particular use of "blood libel" by Palin and others is not just a trivialization of the term, it's missing entirely that element that made the blood libel such an evil: the direct incitement of violence against the libeled group. As often is in the childish "I know you are but what am I" rhetoric of the right, such an accusation more accurately fits the right itself. Both side may be guilty of demonizing the other, but only one side has regularly backed that up with references to the use of guns to get their way.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    He drew and fired on her from behind at point blank range, rendering idiotic any claims that being personally armed could have helped her.

    Italic text added.

    Also please note that one bystander was armed and very nearly shot one of the people who subdued the shooter.

    • Dianne says:

      Also to note that the gunman was disarmed by an unarmed woman who had the guts to rush up to him and grab the gun. No armed bystander did anything even the slightest bit useful in the shooting. If even in a high gun ownership state like AZ, no one with the possession and skill to use a gun stepped forward to stop the massacre with one, that's very strong evidence that it's just not going to happen.

  • Dianne says:

    Maybe I'm reading the wrong newspapers and blogs, but there's one statement I'm not hearing too much: I'm not hearing anyone say, "I like Sarah Palin usually, but this statement makes me wince." Where are the reasonable Republicans? Where are the people willing to admit that "their" candidate screws up once in a while?

    • D. C. Sessions says:

      Where are the reasonable Republicans? Where are the people willing to admit that “their” candidate screws up once in a while?

      Hiding in the cellar until it's over. (Some will get the reference, otherwise ask me.)

      It's not a safe time to be a rational Republican (hold the usual jokes.) Unlike many Democrats, elected Republicans have to manage re-election in districts dominated by ... Republicans. If they start acting too rational or (perish the thought) criticizing Saint Sarah, they're not likely to make it to the general election.

      Consider John McCain, for instance: he had to race J. D. Hayworth to the right just to get on the Republican side of the ticket for the seat he's held for decades.

      • Dianne says:

        Heh. And they say Democrats have no backbones.

        But where did all this craziness come from? The reasonable Republicans wouldn't be in hiding if someone wasn't asking for crazy from their leaders. Ok, the economy's not great, but is it really so bad that we need the kind of craziness we're seeing?

        • D. C. Sessions says:

          Ok, the economy’s not great, but is it really so bad that we need the kind of craziness we’re seeing?

          This isn't a new phenomenon; it's been in the making for decades (arguably more than a century.)

          I'm not the sociologist in the family, but IMHO there are many different threads feeding into this whole toxic weave.

          The key thing to remember is that it doesn't take much to start a stampede -- or a mob. Otherwise good and kind people, gathered into a mob and set in motion, can act collectively in ways that none of them would act individually. We've had too many examples of that, some in very recent memory.

          That's why the whole "blood libel" aspect is so ironic: the mobs who ran wild over the blood libel were, on other days and in other contexts, good and decent people. Some were even good neighbors to the people they hunted -- when they weren't part of the mob.

  • Dianne says:

    Otherwise good and kind people, gathered into a mob and set in motion, can act collectively in ways that none of them would act individually.

    Indeed. As the actual meaning of "blood libel" clearly demonstrates.

    • D. C. Sessions says:

      And that's why I'm increasingly inclined to advise my (young adult) children to consider raising my (hypothetical) grandchildren in some other country. I don't see this tide receding any time soon, and it'll be much worse before it gets better.

      I've been this way a while; in a sunnier mood years ago I registered twilightofempire.org with the intention of using it as a discussion forum for what kind of America those grandchildren might grow up in. Somehow my heart isn't in it lately.

      The usual historical comparisons discarded.

      • Dianne says:

        Well, yes, there's that danger. I'm still of the opinion that it will come to nothing in the end, though.

        The US has flirted with disaster in the past (ie the anti-communist movement in the 1950s.) But in the end, when disaster gets too fresh, the US is generally pretty good about slapping disaster, showing it the door, and heading back to the bar to look for a new ideology.

        McCarthy didn't manage to make himself dictator, probably Palin won't either. She'll make a fool of herself by attacking the military or some other power that's more than she bargained for and that'll be that. At least, that's my current prediction. I won't pretend I'm not strengthening my ties with foreign collaborators though. Just in case.

  • DLC says:

    There are no more rational republicans.
    They left. went home, dug a hole, climbed in and pulled the hole in after them.

  • daedalus2u says:

    I consider Palin's use of the term "death panel" to describe Obama's health care as an actual blood libel. It is a false accusation of the heinous crime of killing innocents.

  • khan says:

    I am rather amazed at how many people (of any persuasion) did not know of the bloody filthy history of "blood libel".
    Don't they teach this shit in school any more?

    • Natalie Sera says:

      No, unfortunately, they don't, and never did teach this in school. All they ever taught were the Christian Kings and Queens and battles, and the wonderful art that they and the Popes commissioned, and one Shakespeare anti-Semitic play, and the Protestant Reformation. They did NOT, in no way, ever teach about the minorities of Europe including the Jews, the Roma and the Sinti (Gypsies). Nowadays, there are a token few paragraphs about the Holocaust, but nothing about the 2000 years of continuing Christian degradation, harassment and murder inflicted on the Jews. I'd be so amazed I'd drop my pants if I ever heard of a Christian who knew ANYTHING about Jewish history in Europe. The Christian churches have dealt far less well than the Germans when it comes to anti-semitism and their undeniable responsibility for it.

  • William Wallace says:

    I guess you just don't like Sarah Palin, as this complaint seems opportunistic.

    To be honest, I wouldn't vote for her to be president. U.S. representative is the highest office I’d want her to serve.

    However, the term blood libel was used in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, two days before Palin’s video. It was used in the same context. It was used without mention of religious minorities and without mention of European history. But it was used by a liberal/conservative, Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds (pro-gay marriage, pro abortion).

    It was also used at scienceblogs, I think when you were there, in an entry "Paladino's Blood Libel on Gays".

    In any event, has it ever occurred to you that when a person unfamiliar with Jewish history (or at least a person without photographic memory) hears a term composed of common words, with well understood meanings, in a combination that appears to apply to the situation at hand, that they wouldn’t immediately research the history of the term to make sure it wasn't trademarked by liberal Jewish groups? (Seems some conservative Jews have come out in her defense).

    • JJM says:

      William Wallace says: January 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm "I guess you just don’t like Sarah Palin, as this complaint seems opportunistic.

      To be honest, I wouldn’t vote for her to be president. U.S. representative is the highest office I’d want her to serve."

      Did you miss that little, national-election thing in 2008 where she demonstrated ignorance and stupidity which made Dan Quayle and George W look like geniuses? And it goes on ...

      William Wallace says: January 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm "However, the term blood libel was used in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, two days before Palin’s video. ... But it was used by a liberal/conservative, Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds (pro-gay marriage, pro abortion)."

      So, if (liberal/conservative?) professor Reynolds misused the term, that makes it okay for Palin to flaunt her ignorance? It's called the tuo quoque fallacy. Intelligent people make mistakes; Palin's type have cornered the market on stupid. (This is the first I've heard of Reynolds, maybe he isn't any brighter than Palin.)

      BTW, "pro abortion" is not a stance taken by anyone I know. Abortion is unfortunate; but sometimes it is the better choice.

  • Jim says:

    I'd argue it was not used in the same context. One was in an op-ed piece where the individual using the term went on to define it, to an extent, and explain it's use. The other was Palin just dropping it into conversation as though her listeners would have an understanding the term.

    Indeed, it's quite possible that someone on her staff gave her the term as something to bring up in her talking points as it had already been mentioned by a few conservative commentators, but bringing it up as baldly and clumsily as she did was, at the very least, very poor planning.

    • William Wallace says:

      The other was Palin just dropping it into conversation as though her listeners would have an understanding the term.

      No. She was communicating. And her intent is clear from the context. Specifically, she was communicating that she thought it was libel to say she had blood on her hands for her campaign poster that put crosshairs on congressional districts, including Giffords'. I understood exactly what she meant.

      I think it's fair to criticize Palin's speech for hypocrisy, along the lines of "Free speech for her but not for others", and some other grounds. It would have been better for her to not have responded to the shrill and silly accusations from the left. But she did. And she didn't consult the list of terms that might offend liberal Jewish people, first. Maybe one of you might want to compile such a list of verboten English word combinations .

      Meanwhile, today, on the repeal of Obamacare vote in the U.S. House, liberal Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen (D) went Goodwin, and compared Republican’s to NAZI propaganda minister Goebbels.

      But I won't hold my breath waiting for the liberal left blogosphere to whine about this, though. Political correctness demands snarks and hate speech can only be directed toward the right.