Palin’s “blood libel”: it’s time to say No

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"Sarah Palin's use of the phrase 'blood libel' could scarcely be more incendiary, especially in a religious country like the U.S.," the UK Guardian's religion writer, Stephen Bates, writes. "That it should be used by an avowedly Christian politician about a Jewish one just takes crassness and insensitivity to a new level." What he is referring to is this: Palin's use of the term "blood libel" comes in a context of repeated right-wing anti-Semitic slurs against supposedly liberal Jewish media. Palin used the term in a vicious attack on "journalists and pundits" who criticized her cross-hairs targeting of Jewish Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

"Blood libel" is an emotionally laden term that dates back centuries to the anti-Semitic accusation that Jewish people as a whole bear responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ. Over the centuries it has meant accusing Jews of murdering Christian children in order to use their blood to bake Passover matzohs or in other religious rituals. These are a vicious mythology that has been used to justify pogroms and other persecutions of Jews through the centuries and into the present.

Strangely, or perhaps not, right-wing fraud-perpetrator Andrew Breitbart used exactly the same term - "blood libel" - yesterday in a Twitter defense of Palin. And right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds similarly used the term in an op ed published Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal. Read more here.  

Why would Palin and her right-wing extremist colleagues choose to use such an inflammatory term, after all the talk about toning down the rhetoric after the terrible shootings that took place on Saturday in Arizona?

Of course they will claim that they oppose the anti-Semitic notion and that it's her opponents who are guilty. We don't buy it.

The Palin-Beck-Limbaugh-tea-party operation has bandied about Nazi imagery in a coordinated way from the get-go, even while claiming to oppose it. Turning reality on its head, they have brandished swastikas and Hitler images in attacks against a liberal, African American president and his efforts at progressive social reform, swirling these disturbing images into a toxic mix of gun culture, barely masked appeals to violence, organizing target practices as political campaign events, spitting on members of Congress and breaking their office windows, stoking the fires of paranoia with anti-government conspiracy theories, including about currency and the "gold standard" and about enemy aliens infiltrating even as far as the presidency.

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that Palin's statement "shows that she will not retreat from any violence-laden speech." Palin's use of this loaded "bloody" phrase conjures up the anti-Semitic mythology of persecution of Christians and "plays into this evil history," positioning herself - rather than Gabrielle Giffords who in fact is Jewish - as the victim, Butler writes.

In a 2007 book about Germany's Weimar Republic which ended with Hitler's rise to power, historian Eric Weitz writes that the period, in which Germany was "battered by economic crisis and unrelenting political conflict," offers a "warning sign" for us today. With the demise of the German empire after World War I, right-wing elements, "following the stab-in-the-back legend," rushed to blame Jews and socialists for the "unrest, hyperinflation, depression, bankruptcies" and other miseries besetting the country, and portraying "pure" Germans as the victims. Weitz says it shows what can happen when society is divided on how to move forward and "every minor difference becomes a cause of existential political battles, when assassinations and street fights run rampant and minorities become the easy scapegoats of antidemocratic forces."

"It is a warning sign," he writes, "because we all know how it ended: with the Nazi assumption of power on 30 January 1933."

We are not Weimar Germany. We have a strong and deep democratic tradition and culture, and a rich multicultural heritage, filled with struggle against racial, ethnic and religious hatred and division. But we are in a time of profound economic upheaval, and we should take seriously the lessons of pre-Hitler Germany.

Saturday's violence shows the extent to which the Sarah Palins and their big-money backers are playing with fire to advance their reactionary political agenda. The evidence is staring us in the face.

Uncovering what specific factors triggered Jared Loughner's bloody assassination shooting spree in Tucson may be as complex as determining what caused Lee Harvey Oswald to become involved in whatever way in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. But the far-right hate that was being propagated in our country that November of 1963 is a fact. We recall the posters labeling that liberal president as "wanted for treason."

Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch writes in his blog: "Is it really necessary to tie Loughner into the broader body politic to prove what we as Americans should already know instinctively: That when eliminationists are targeting members of Congress with rocks and stray bullets and tar and feathers and a minister is praying for the death of the American president and when a state decides as an entity to profile and harass human beings because they have brown skin or because their religion is different, that things have already gone way, way off the tracks. We should have seen this long before 10 a.m. Mountain time, on the fateful morning of Jan. 8, 2011."

It would be good to see our nation's religious, cultural and community leaders come together to stand up and unequivocally reject the Palin-tea-party movement and its violence-laden "big lie" message. It is time to speak out and defend our democracy.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Monarrez-Maldonado

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  • I believe the media have a lot of self-assessment to do. Every outrageous statement Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin makes gets amplified and aggrandized even by the "respectable" media. How about a people's movement to demand their dialing down the attention paid to these nut-jobs? They only thrive on the controversy and exposure. Let's choke off their airtime.

    Posted by , 01/14/2011 12:29am (4 years ago)

  • This is all part and parcel of the right-wing attempt to rewrite history. Remember, according to Glenn Beck, it was white conservatives who led the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. So, maybe right-wing "Christians" are the "real Jews". After all, the Christian Identity movement already espouses that belief. Maybe Palin and Fox "News" and hate-radio are ready to take that ideology "mainstream". Who Knows?

    Posted by John Whiskey, 01/13/2011 11:25pm (4 years ago)

  • I do not think it even likely that Sarah Palin was aware of the historical origin of the term "blood libel." I admit I was not. However, it is a meaningful metaphor just by itself, and I feel obliged to defend freedom of speech however sensitive any ethnic group might be to the origin of particular phrases. By the same token, free speech assures your right to protest the use of the term, and I just as heartily defend you as well. But I do wish we could all get past the stifling minefield of political correctness.

    Posted by Reneau H Reneau, 01/13/2011 2:11pm (4 years ago)

  • Time for an intervention,,, perhaps we should first of all stop calling them the "right" wing because they seem to take that literally and in reality they are so damned wrong,,, and the connotations of "sweet" and "sinister" are huge misnomers,,,

    That's all i got but a public intervention on prime time is in order to cut thru the smoke and mirrors program they are projecting on the public personality,,, and you're right about the religious, cultural and community leaders taking a stand in this critical social dilemma,,,

    Posted by Leandro DellaPiana, 01/12/2011 10:42pm (4 years ago)

  • What a coward this Palin is, not taking responsibility for and repudiating her calls for violence against Democrats. And her misuse of the "blood libel" phrase goes well beyond her usual malapropisms and language ineptitude. What a nauseating spectacle: Palin going on the offensive with an anti-Semitic slur while the Jewish woman she (literally) targeted is fighting for her life. A new low for the Right.

    Posted by chris e., 01/12/2011 7:05pm (4 years ago)

  • SARAH PALIN – BLOOD LIBEL

    Today's Republicans, including Sarah Palin, are cut from the same cloth as Richard Nixon, who falsely insisted, “I am not a crook,” just before Nixon was forced to resign from the Presidency.
    Since Nixon, Republicans have become better at covering up their dirty tricks. Sarah was named by the St. Petersburg Times
    “Politi-Fact” in Florida as the LIAR of the YEAR for her statement about DEATH PANELS in ObamaCare. The noses of the Republicans just keep growing longer everyday, just like Pinocchio. SO, WHO BELIEVES SARAH PALIN WHEN SHE SAYS SHE WAS FALSELY ACCUSED (blood libel)? WELL, I DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING SARAH PALIN SAYS - SHE IS A COMPULSIVE LIAR. Now she’s behaving like a “drama queen,” a real “actress.” And, Republicans are self-indulgent, greedy people, who seek power and fortune. Palin sold out Alaska and went ROGUE to make herself millions of dollars. She is NOT to be trusted. She is constantly lying. She also said in Clearwater, Florida, in a debate with Joe Biden, that "off shore oil drilling is safe and environmentally friendly." She evidently did that to get campaign contributions from Big Oil. THIS WAS ANTOHER LIE OF SARAH PALIN, as several big oil disasters have proven. These Greedy Republicans will even murder people to obtain their greedy goals. Republicans are behind the assassinations of Liberals such as John Kennedy (Catholic), Robert Kennedy (Catholic), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Black), and now Giffords, a Jew. It is obvious to me that the Republican not only hate Liberals, but they also hate Catholics, Blacks, and Jews. Republicans are maniacal people, including the present Republicans in the U.S. House of Represenatives and the U.S. Senate. Republicans are NOT trustworthy – they have all taken lessons from Richard Nixon.
    So, I do not believe it when Palin claims she was "FALSELY ACCUSED."

    Posted by Jimmy James, 01/12/2011 5:40pm (4 years ago)

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