14 January 2011

Palin Cries ‘Blood Libel’: Can Words Harm Us?

Palin Cries ‘Blood Libel’: Can Words Harm Us? By Susannah Heschel (Religion Dispatches, 12 January 2011)

Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.

It’s curious then that in a video posted to her Facebook page, Sarah Palin would so vociferously insist that language played no role in the Tucson shootings. The angry, sometimes violent, rhetoric and imagery could not have influenced Jared Lee Loughner, claimed Palin in a preemptive ploy for innocence. Toward the end of the video, to emphasize her argument that language plays no role in influencing action, she threw in the phrase “blood libel”:
Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
Do words have consequences or not? For Palin, it seems, acts of criminality stand alone; yet in the very next sentence she goes on to assert the opposite: that the “journalists and pundits” who want our political rhetoric toned down, and who’ve criticized her image of Rep. Giffords and others caught in the “crosshairs,” are themselves manufacturing a “blood libel” that may well “incite...violence.” So language can manufacture a “blood libel” and incite violence yet she can be so sure that it played no role in motivating a gunman?

As is often the case, we’re never quite clear what Ms. Palin is arguing, and we’re left to wonder whether even she knows. Indeed, I would join other Jewish leaders who hope that, despite having the benefit of Jewish advisers, Palin was simply unaware of the history of “blood libels,” and used it out of ignorance. If she did use the term deliberately, with full knowledge of its connotations, I tremble at the political fabric she is manufacturing. Either way, Ms. Palin may have just garnered a spot in the Jewish history textbooks. Invoking “blood libel” in an utterly inappropriate context, she will be remembered for her manipulative use of one of the ugliest yet most persistent anti-Semitic canards Jews have faced.
Link: Palin Cries ‘Blood Libel’: Can Words Harm Us?