Backlash Grows Over Palin's 'Blood Libel' Claim

Thane Rosenbaum in The Daily News, January 12, 2011

Media Source

Sarah Palin's use of the loaded phrase "blood libel" is attracting more attention and condemnation as the day goes on.

The former Alaska governor used the words to describe the claims of critics who said Palin deserved some of the blame for the Arizona shootings because of her fiery rhetoric and her target-marked election map that put the sights on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), among others.

But the phrase most often refers to an anti-Semitic myth that's been used to justify untold brutality against Jews.

Palin's representatives have not responded to requests for comment, but one source familiar with the controversy insisted Palin's aim was not to whip up a new frenzy, and certainly not to suggest anything anti-Semitic. The source, however, admitted the words were not picked carefully enough. "The best we could hope for is 'poor choice'" the source said of ongoing assessments. The video was released in the morning in order to avoid being overshadowed by the President later in the day.

Bronx Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, however, was not buying ignorance or misspeaking as a defense.

"Once again Sarah Palin can't help herself -- she’s always got to use inappropriate language, she’s always got to be walking on the line," Engel said, noting the target map and Palin's use of the phrase "Don't retreat -- reload."

He called the blood libel remark "offensive on it's face."

"I can’t believe that so much of it is coincidental," he said. "She walks right up to the line, drops her bomb, and then retreats, and says how dare you say she meant that. It’s just totally inappropriate, and she should know better."

Fordham Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum told the Daily News' Richard Sisk that Palin's careless use of the term amounted to "trivializing the historical tragedy of the Jewish people."

"The use of the words steps over the line," said Rosenbaum, director of Fordham's Forum on Law, Culture and Society. Palin was "doubling down on the political rhetoric," Rosenbaum said. "It's always despicable, and not just offensive, to trade on someone else's historical tragedy."

Some conservatives were pointing to other uses of the words in stances where they did not attract such condemnation, and the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman also gave Palin a little bit of a break.

"It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this [Arizona] tragedy or for being an accessory to murder. Palin has every right to defend herself," Foxman said.

"Still, we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase 'blood-libel' in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits," he said, adding that  while the phrase "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."