Sarah Palin’s most dedicated Jewish supporters are sticking by the former Alaska governor after her comments Wednesday castigating journalists for committing what she called “blood libel.”
“The use of the term blood libel is appropriate,” said Benyamin Korn, director of Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, which runs JewsForSarah.com. Korn, a longtime Jewish journalist and activist, says his group has several hundred members. The website got off the ground in April 2010.
Palin’s comment comes five days after the violent rampage in Tucson, Arizona. President Obama is scheduled Wednesday to visit the area that claimed six lives and injured 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona. Some liberals were quick to draw a connection between the shooting and the violent rhetoric of the 2010 campaign, including a map used by Palin which put 20 Democratic candidates, Giffords among them, in virtual “crosshairs.”
In this morning’s taped address posted to her Facebook page, Palin said, “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. That is reprehensible.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, allegations of “blood libel” date back to the Medieval period when Jews were falsely accused of murdering non-Jewish children to use their blood in ritual practices. Throughout history, the so-called blood libel has led to mob violence or “pogroms” where entire Jewish communities were murdered.
Because of this history, the ADL, among other Jewish groups, criticized Palin. Said its leader Abe Foxman, “[W]e 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.”
“There’s been issues raised about how can it be a blood libel if it didn’t lead to bloodshed against her because blood libel led to bloodshed against Jews. That’s not always true,” Korn said. “I would not have advised her against [using] it if anyone would have asked me. I think it is appropriate. They accused her of inciting bloodshed. Now this is preposterous.”
Korn added that opponents of Palin are “leaping for ‘gotcha’ material against her.” Palin has long spoken about her support of Israel and her love of the Jewish people. She went so far as to hang an Israeli flag in her Anchorage office when she was the governor.
Another founder of Jewish Americans for Sarah, Dr. Nahum Duker, a professor of pathology at Temple University, also defended Palin, and said this is an example of language “living as it evolves.”
That’s an explanation sure to appeal to Palin. The former vice presidential nominee has taken pride in her, um, creative use of the English language, most notably her creation of the word “refudiate” this summer during the debate over a mosque planned for Lower Manhattan.
Supporters see the uproar over Palin’s “blood libel” comment as another unfair attack.
“The political far left using this as an excuse is beyond the bounds of political criticism. She has been far more civil in her discourse than a good many of her adversaries,” Duker said.
The term, “blood libel,” has been employed by a variety of conservative commentators in recent days, most prominently, law professor Glenn Reynolds, whose Wall Street Journal column Monday asked, “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?” Andrew Breitbart further popularized its use.
Palin has made a number of public efforts to reach out to Jewish Americans. Back in September, she sent greetings through her Facebook page during the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. She even dropped a little Hebrew on her fans. For Palin, embracing America’s Jews is part of her message of strong American support for Israel. As she wrote, “To our Jewish friends and neighbors on this Rosh Hashanah, may you be inscribed in the Book of Life. And for our friends in Israel, know that the American people will continue to stand with you in this New Year as you strive for peace and security.”
Last summer, Palin joined members of Jews for Sarah in Pennsylvania Amish country for a traditional Sabbath celebration. More than 1,000 people turned out for the Republican’s visit to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, according to Korn. Those wishing to sit at Palin’s table paid $25,000 for the privilege. Palin told those attending that she read the story of Esther, one of Judaism’s most famous heroines, to her daughter Willow.
“For us it was a memorable and moving Shabbat, full of songs and prayers, hearty food, and our plans and dreams for bringing back home the message of our American Esther,” Korn wrote in the New York Sun.
Palin’s appeal to Jewish voters has become a particularly fraught subject in conservative circles. The former governor’s national profile was given its first big boost when she met with editors of the staunchly pro-Israel Weekly Standard in 2007. The founder, Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes are widely thought of as “discovering” Palin because of that original meeting. One of her foreign-policy advisers is a Standard veteran, Michael Goldfarb. Current and former editors of Commentary magazine, a traditional home for Jewish conservative thought, have given Palin’s place in the political firmament a solid working out. Jennifer Rubin, now of The Washington Post, gave the question its most thorough review in “ Why Jews Hate Palin,” published a year ago.
Besides defending Palin, Jews for Sarah hasn’t shied away from the politics of the Giffords shooting. While Palin’s supporters have loudly protested any connection between Palin’s rhetoric and the violence in Tucson, Jews for Sarah posted an article from World Net Daily on Monday connecting the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to conservative bête noire Bill Ayers, the leader of the defunct left-wing militant group Weather Underground.
Jewish commentators were divided on Wednesday in response to Palin’s comments.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg said Palin’s comments could provide a teachable moment.
“I mean it sincerely when I say I hope Sarah Palin, who regularly expresses love for Jews and Israel, takes the time to learn about the history of the blood libel, and shares what she has learned with her many admirers,” Goldberg wrote.
Jonah Goldberg of the National Review was less sanguine: “But I think that the use of this particular term in this context isn’t ideal. Historically, the term is almost invariably used to describe anti-Semitic myths about how Jews use blood—usually from children—in their rituals.”
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.