Sarah Palin's right and you're wrong. And "you" in this case is the rest of society. Today's topic? The meaning of the phrase "blood libel."
Palin used the loaded phrase in the wake of the Tucson shootings. "Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn," she said. [See a photo gallery of the aftermath of the Tucson shooting.]
The phrase has a specific meaning relating to centuries of malicious rumors aimed at Jews, vile myths about secret, bloody rituals and such. This isn't a partisan argument so much as a matter of history. As such, many observers questioned whether Palin had any idea what she was saying when she said it. The answer seems to not only be, to paraphrase Palin herself, "no" but "hell no." [Read the U.S. News debate: Has political rhetoric gotten dangerously extreme.]
Appearing on Sean Hannity's Fox News show Monday night, Palin argued that her use of the phrase was entirely correct and that everyone else just didn't know what they were talking about:
Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands. In this case, that's exactly what was going on... Just two days before, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal had that term in its title. And that term has been used for eons.
In other words, since Palin was unaware of the phrase's history, that history must be wrong. As Gawker's Max Read puts it:
Obviously. Obviously! Yes, it obviously means "being falsely accused of having blood on your hands," if you are Jewish, and the context is that someone is falsely accusing of having the blood of murdered children on your hands, as you perform religious rituals. I can't believe the nerve of some liberals, insisting that a term used to describe a specific and pernicious anti-Semitic myth not be hijacked by a narcissistic failed sports reporter as part of her eternal victimhood parade. The term has been used "for eons" (to describe a centuries old accusation about Jews)! Eons!
And as Time's Alex Altman notes, Palin could have easily made the whole controversy disappear, but for her Bush-ian inability to admit error:
...what's really striking is her basic inability -- or calculated unwillingness? -- to acknowledge the legitimacy of other people's views. Her critics are always the same cabal of America-haters cooking up plots to stifle the truth, silence patriotic debate or steal your freedom. For what it's worth, I don't think Palin meant to tap into an old anti-Semitic trope with the "blood libel" remark. But it would have been easy enough to simply say that no malice was intended and she regretted if anyone was offended by the phrase. And yet, she would never. You don't retreat, you reload. (Rhetorically, I know.)
- See 10 reasons Palin would make a bad president (and 10 reasons she'd make a good one)
- See photos of Palin and her family.
- Read more about the Arizona shooting and Gabrielle Giffords.