Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin's Comments About the Giffords Shooting Spark Controversy

Here's the full video:

Sarah Palin: "America's Enduring Strength" from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.

Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel (emphasis added: ed) that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.

The comments that spark controversy begin when she claims that she's the focus of a blood libel. The attempted assassination is not about her, but postings on her website were highlighted as a means of showing the coarseness of the political debate and this is part of her response.

I can't disagree with Ed Morrissey or Glenn Reynolds  enough about their interpretation that "blood libel" is somehow a political term. Reynolds points out to Politico’s Ben Smith that Israel uses "blood libel" today to rebut charges of deliberately killing Palestinians, and Tony Blankley used it in a column to describe John Murtha’s accusations against Marines about murders in Haditha that it's somehow a functional political term.

Tony Blankley was wrong in his usage as well. Murtha libeled those Marines, but it was not a blood libel.

Differentiate that from the fact that Israel is responding to ongoing and persistent claims made by Palestinians that the Israelis are purposefully targeting and murdering Palestinian children and other Arab regimes perpetuate the blood libel annually - typically around Passover.

Those Palestinian claims are the blood libel. Israel is rebutting those offensive and odious claims. Israel has not turned it into a functional political term. Israel is defending itself against one of the most offensive memes in history.

Words have meaning. Blood libel has a very specific meaning and when you start taking words and concepts out of their proper usage you reduce the word's value and usage.

I'd say that Palin's usage was incredibly stupid, particularly when the victim of the attack was herself Jewish. Palin isn't a victim here, and she certainly wasn't the victim of a blood libel under any tortured reading into the meaning of that concept.

Had Palin claimed that the media and bloggers were engaging in libel and ascribing to her blame for the Loughner attack, she may have had a point. Pundits and the media began pointing fingers moments after the shooting took place and have not stopped since. Loughner's motivations are still unknown and he isn't cooperating with authorities. But when she used "blood libel", which has a very specific meaning and is a loaded term, especially those who understand the religious significance of the term, it showed tremendous insensitivity particularly because Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish.

The ADL has issued a statement:
The ADL has issued a statement.

It is unfortunate that the tragedy in Tucson continues to stimulate a political blame game. Rather than step back and reflect on the lessons to be learned from this tragedy, both parties have reverted to political partisanship and finger-pointing at a time when the American people are looking for leadership, not more vitriol. In response to this tragedy we need to rise above partisanship, incivility, heated rhetoric, and the business-as-usual approaches that are corroding our political system and tainting the atmosphere in Washington and across the country.

It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder. Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks, and we agree with her that the best tradition in America is one of finding common ground despite our differences.

Still, we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase “blood-libel” in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others. While the term “blood-libel” has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.

The ADL's comments are weak and contribute to undermining the meaning and weight of the concept of blood libel compared to those made by others (HT: OOOG at LGF):
National Jewish Democratic Council: Palin’s Incendiary “Blood Libel” Reference: Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Wrong Always
J Street Responds to Palin’s “Blood Libel” Statement
Jewish Funds for Justice: Stop Fanning the Flames of Division

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