Sarah Palin’s “blood libel” invocation

By Nathan Diament

Originally published in The Washington Post – On Faith, January 12, 2011

Some political partisans and pundits sought to link the tragic events of Tucson to the acts of their political opponents – in particular Sarah Palin who had identified Rep. Giffords’ district as a “target” for action in the last election.

Sarah Palin has today responded to these attacks on her with a video in which she characterizes the attacks as a “blood libel.”

My friend Jeffrey Goldberg, in his typically thoughtful and contrarian manner, suggests that while unfortunate, Ms. Palin’s use of this term may be useful in educating many who are unfamiliar with the history of blood libels – and their legacy in relations between peoples and faiths and nations today. My friend Brad Hirschfield does much the same.

Those are generous perspectives by Jeffrey and Brad and very appropriate for the generosity of spirit such tragic moments require for our social fabric to be strengthened.

But what is troubling is that Ms. Palin’s statement – and her invocation of the term “blood libel” is neither generous nor accurate.

Those who sought to slur Ms. Palin by connecting her to the Tucson attacks were engaging in baseless allegations for base ends.

Ms. Palin, while properly in my view seeing herself as a victim, invokes a historic term which by its terms accuses her opponents of deploying such libelous accusations so that her very life would be threatened.

I am not offended by Ms. Palin’s resort to this response, I think her to be a friend of Israel and the Jewish people. But to my ears, her response keeps our political and civic discourse in the gutter. It does not try to lead Americans to a better place, which might offer the most modest measure of comfort that the victims in Tucson did not die and suffer completely in vain.