Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” didn’t alarm us in any particular way, so the national debate that has swirled around her use of the term has seemed a bit baffling. The Anti-Defamation League firmly but politely pointed out that “blood libel” has a very specific historical definition, and others suggested that it not be allowed to be stripped of its original meaning.
Unfortunately, others responded to Palin as if she had purposely insulted the Jews, or had assumed their mantle of victimhood to deflect criticism for the violent political metaphors she employed in the months preceding an assassin’s rampage in Tucson. There’s nothing in Palin’s record to suggest this kind of animus toward Jews, and every reason to think her gaffe was merely the product of sloppy staff work and gaps in her own historical awareness.
What was disappointing was Palin’s inability to acknowledge her misuse of the historic term. “Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands, and in this case that’s exactly what was going on,” Palin told Sean Hannity.
No, it doesn’t — it refers quite specifically to the false charge that Jews murder Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes. Palin had an opportunity to issue a simple clarification along the lines of, “Although I used the term merely to indicate a false accusation, I have since learned its particular, accepted definition. Even as I continue to reject the grotesque efforts to link me to the atrocity in Tucson, I want to assure my Jewish and non-Jewish friends that I respect the need to preserve the historical record.”
It’s a pity she didn’t seize this opportunity.