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Sarah Palin: Critics Blaming Political Right for Shootings Commit 'Blood Libel'

3 years ago
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Sarah Palin said Wednesday that the journalists and pundits who blame the rhetoric of the political right for the act of "monstrous criminality" in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday are committing a "blood libel" -- a term usually reserved for a centuries-old false claim used to justify anti-Semitism.

The former Alaska governor, in a seven-minute video, mourned the tragic shootings that took the lives of six people and wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). But she said the rampage was the act of a "single evil man" who gunned down peaceful citizens. She said she moved from puzzlement to "concern" as reaction to the incident in some quarters blamed conservative rhetoric for provoking the violence caused by "this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal."

Violent acts, such as the shootings in Arizona, "stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them," Palin said. In remarks posted on the website Vimeo, Palin said the media "should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

"Blood libel" is an extraordinarily loaded phrase because it recalls the false accusation by Christians against Jews that was used for centuries as an excuse for anti-Semitic persecution. The libel generally refers to the charge that Jews required human blood, and in particular the blood of Christian children, to bake matzoh bread.

Palin, like many conservative Christians, is a strong supporter of Israel, and she has been particularly supportive of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line stands versus the Palestinians. In an open letter to incoming Republican freshmen last November she implicitly rebuked President Obama when she wrote that "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, not a settlement," and in June she slammed Obama over what she said was his weak-kneed support of Israel following the Israeli commando attack on a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine activists dead.

But Christian conservatives like Palin are also growing increasingly fond of Jewish religious traditions and motifs, sometimes celebrating Passover Seders and appropriating Old Testament references like the Israelites in exile to describe their own experience in modern America. Palin, for example, likes to compare herself to Queen Esther, the Jewish beauty from the Book of Esther who saves her people from destruction.

Such religious borrowing can be problematic for Jews, and Palin's "blood libel" reference evoking such a devastating history at the hands of Christians could be especially explosive. The Anti-Defamation League said it was "inappropriate to blame Palin and others for causing this tragedy." Still, the ADL said, "we wish Palin had not invoked the phrase 'blood libel'" -- words that have become part of English parlance, but ones "so fraught with pain in Jewish history."

Palin, a potential the 2012 presidential candidate and a relentless critic of Obama, has also taken heat for a campaign map she posted on her Facebook page last year showing a number of vulnerable Democratic congressional districts in cross-hairs. The map of the U.S. displayed depictions of rifle sites over 20 Democratic-held districts, including 17 where incumbents were running for reelection in 2010. These included districts represented by Giffords and Rep. Vic Snyder of Arkansas.

Within hours after the incident Saturday, the blogosphere lit up. The Daily Kos, a widely read left-wing website that took issue with Palin's political map, tweeted "Mission Accomplished Sarah Palin." On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann called on Republicans to repudiate Palin, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee. And he made reference to targeting political opponents with "bull's-eyes over their faces," though the Palin graphic did no such thing. In the Huffington Post Saturday, former Sen. Gary Hart denounced "violent words and phrases" in political speech and concluded, "Today we have seen the results of this rhetoric." Hart ran for president as a Democrat in 1984 and 1988.

Liberals loudly objected during the mid-term campaign to the provocative rhetoric employed by some tea party members and the candidates they backed, including Republican Sharron Angle of Nevada, a gun rights supporter. Angle had said in an interview that she hoped "we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies" in dealing with unpopular government policies embraced by her opponent, Sen. Harry Reid. "I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems," she said.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, said Arizona Republicans should take steps to make sure their state is safe for opposing political viewpoints. In an e-mail to supporters -- also asking for contributions -- Sanders called on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to lead the effort, CNN said. "First, this horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate," Sanders wrote. "Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred."

That's not Palin's take. The responsibility for terrible acts rests with the individual criminal, she said, "not collectively with all of the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election." In the video, she did not mention the name of suspect Jared Loughner, nor did she discuss whether mental illness played any role in the tragedy.

Writing in the New York Times, op-ed columnist David Brooks said emerging details suggest that Loughner may be mentally unbalanced and was "struggling to control his own mind." Claims are being made, Brooks wrote, that inflammatory political rhetoric contributed to the murders, "despite the fact that there was, and is, no evidence that Loughner was part of these movements or a consumer of their literature."

(David Gibson contributed to this report.)

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