Jewish Republicans had a muted reaction Wednesday to Sarah Palin’s accusation that the media manufactured a “blood libel” while covering the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
The term “blood libel” refers to historical, false accusations that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish children for religious purposes. Persecutors of the Jews employed a “blood libel” mentality to justify acts of violence against them. Additionally, Giffords is Jewish.
Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors, did not address Palin’s use of the phrase “blood libel” but said she would have been better served by focusing on a more positive message.
“I liked much of what she said, but it would have been even better if she simply rose above the accusations about her map and focused entirely on the bigger message of loss, tragedy and the greatness of our country and the strength of our people,” he told The Hill. “The better way to repudiate the nonsensical charges against her would have been to rise above them.”
A spokesman for the only Jewish Republican in Congress, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), did not refer directly to the remark and also expressed hope that people focus on the victims of the attack.
“Our hope is that members, journalists, and all Americans keep their hearts, prayers, and hopes with Congresswoman Giffords, the victims of this horrific tragedy, and their families who are no doubt grieving today and in need of our collective support,” Brad Dayspring said in an e-mail.
Palin – the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee – invoked the “blood libel” in a pointed response Wednesday to criticism of her heated political rhetoric in the wake of attempted assassination of Giffords this weekend.
“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 they purport to condemn,” she wrote in a Facebook note. “That is reprehensible.”
Many conservative commentators have defended Palin in the wake of the shootings, saying the media unfairly connected her past comments to the shooting, and praised her Facebook note. But some questioned her use of “blood libel.”
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg wrote Wednesday that he agreed with Palin’s greater point but that the “use of this particular term in this context isn’t ideal” since it threatened to redefine it.
National Jewish Democratic Council President David A. Harris said in a statement that Palin made the wrong choice in co-opting the “particularly heinous term for American Jews.”
“Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a ‘blood libel’ against her and others,” he said.
Harris also suggested Palin might not know the meaning of the term.
“Perhaps Sarah Palin honestly does not know what a blood libel is, or does not know of their horrific history; that is perhaps the most charitable explanation we can arrive at in explaining her rhetoric today,” he added.
Anti-Defamation League President Abraham Foxman said that, “It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy” but acknowledged that, “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.”
In a Twitter post, the Republican Jewish Coalition called the statement “senisble.”
Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds first used the term this week in the context of the Giffords shooting.
“So as the usual talking heads begin their ‘have you no decency?’ routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “The Arizona tragedy and the politics of blood libel.”