Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rabbi: By 'blood libel' claim Palin admits 'words can be deadly'

Rabbi: By 'blood libel' claim Palin admits 'words can be deadly'

by Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today
January 12, 2011

You might think a rabbi would see Sarah Palin's video claim she's a victim of "blood libel" as monumental chutzpah (nerve), as if she, too, were an Arizona shooting victim like gravely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or Gifford's murdered aide Gabe Zimmerman.

After all, "blood libel" points to a often distorted and lethally misused passage about Jews and the crucifixion of Christ in Matthew 27:25:

All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!"

It was the pretext of anti-Semitism for 2,000 years and the motive behind centuries of mass killings, pogroms, in Eastern Europe when Jews were falsely accused of using Christian children's blood in religious ceremonies.

The Guardian notes:

That it should be used by an avowedly Christian politician about a Jewish one just takes crassness and insensitivity to a new level.

Maybe it's now a perverse form of 'victim chic' to try to corner your own teardrop of sympathy in every moment of headliner public mourning, I wonder.

But Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, has a surprising (well it was to me) spin on Palin's comment. If she thinks she's turning the guns, so to speak, back on her critics for attempting to endanger her (her what? her political future?) by claiming she contributed to a climate of violence, she's gone about it totally backwards. He told me today:

It's not just inappropriate, it's profoundly ironic. By making this comparison and playing Jew in the picture, the person endangered by a blood libel, she admits that the words people use can have deadly impact.

By claiming that others' words are a blood libel that endangers her, she's at least admitting the prospect that claims her words endangered others could be true.

I'm not giving her a free pass. It was a poor and hurtful analogy. But clearly, she's affirming exactly what her critics charge...

[Rabbi Irwin] Kula even wonders whether the phrase came to her because,

... at some level, unconsciously, she feels guilty in some way for what has happened. But this is so painful at an unconscious level that she has disassociated and lashed out accusing others of what is a deep self-judgment. This is sad, as she is not responsible at all for the shootings in Arizona. She is simply, along with all of us who have created her, responsible for the coarsening of our public culture at a time when we are facing historic challenges that cut to the very core of what America will be in the next period of history.

Rabbi David Sapperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, just back to his office after joining in the House of Representatives' prayer service this morning, says,

To compare (historic blood libel accusations) and their outcomes to what she is facing really distorts and diminishes the meaning of this accusation. In fairness, she's not the first to water it down, as if it means just being falsely accused of something terrible. But it concerns us. It escalates the intensity of the rhetoric, rather than calming it down.

By waving this red flag, it seems to me she's missed an opportunity at real leadership. We call on her to retract the statement and to find a way to help calm things down...

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