SARAH PALIN’S ‘BLOOD LIBEL’ BLUNDER
Sara Palin’s misappropriation of a phrase from the history of antisemitism in discussing the Giffords shooting is a staggering affront…
The sense of victimhood of the Tea Party and its fellow travellers should now be well known. It was Glenn Beck, after all – the man who accused America’s first African American president of being “racist” – who last year told a rally of his followers in Washington that they had taken on the mantle of the civil rights movement.
Now Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate, has repeated this same repellent inversion, accusing those who criticised her for her violent political rhetoric against Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman shot in Arizona on Saturday, of perpetrating a “blood libel” against her. In using that expression, Palin has appropriated a phrase with a specific meaning in the long history of hate crime against the Jewish people.
First mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew to refer to the supposed Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus, over the centuries it came to mean something even more pernicious: the fraudulent claim that Jews used the blood of murdered children in their rituals. More awful still, perhaps, is the context in which Palin has adopted the language: to recast herself as the victim in defending herself from claims that her language and behaviour may have helped create the context for the attempted murder of a congresswoman who, in fact, is Jewish.
Now, it is almost irrelevant whether Palin’s language contributed to the shootings, or whether even her campaign’s drawing of a crosshairs on Giffords’ district was even known to the gunman. Because in defending herself Palin has more than compounded the sense that she is unsuitable for high office. It is almost impossible to find an explanation for this use of “blood libel” that casts Palin in anything but the most damning light.
Did she – and her advisers – really not have an inkling what “blood libel” means? If she did not, then that suggests a politician yet more naïve and clumsy than even her most strident detractors had supposed.
But more problematic still is a scenario where Palin knows what “blood libel” actually means, attaching herself as a victim on the same footing as those who suffered centuries of antisemitic persecution that culminated in the Holocaust. Is this what Palin is implying? Poor Sarah. That criticism of her crass political style is of the same order as the pogroms and expulsions perpetrated against the Jewish people?
Then, there is a final issue and the most serious one: Palin’s political response to the Arizona massacre has been inept to the point of being risible. Confronted with serious questions about her style at a time of national shock, her first response was to explain herself in an email written to Glenn Beck.
This video statement was a second chance to show how she could act as a statesman and engage with the debate about America’s overheated political language at a time when families are still mourning their dead. She had an opportunity to demonstrate that she was not simply a polarising and partisan figure and to dismiss the suspicions that she is self-serving, narcissistic and self-obsessed.
In that, Sarah Palin has manifestly failed. And she has failed not just as a politician, but as a human being, too.
By Peter Beaumont