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Historian blasts Palin’s use of “blood libel” and reveals his own shortcomings

January 12, 2011

Boston University religion prof Stephen Prothero — as well as several Jewish organizations — are calling Sarah Palin on the carpet for her use of the term “blood libel” on her Facebook page. Palin was writing about some of the responses to last week’s shooting rampage in Tuscon, an event that she believes has been politically exploited by the left. Palin herself has been accused of being indirectly responsible for the shooting. The media, she says, have created a blood libel.

I get why Prothero and others object. Blood libel is one of those references you can’t apply to just anything, steeped as it is in the European anti-Semitic legend of Jews ritually torturing and killing Christian children.

On the CNN religion blog, to which he’s a regular contributor, Prothero explains the concept, lamenting once again our nation’s religious illiteracy. He says he can only pray Palin is one of the ignorant masses who doesn’t really understand the term and calls on her as a Christian to acknowledge her sin and publicly confess to bad judgment. He mocks what he sees as her victimization complex and blasts her for “casting herself as a persecuted Jew.” (My take on that in a minute.) This passage really captures Prothero’s contempt for Palin:

And apparently in this moment of national tragedy we are supposed to be paying attention not to the real victims of this tragedy–including a Jewish congresswoman now lying in a hospital bed in Tucson–but to a pretend victim standing comfortably in front of a videocam in Alaska.

OK, first of all, Palin has been blamed for the Tuscon shooting. Some in the media and in the political world have been irresponsible (at best) in trying to link the gunman’s motivation to Palin’s politics. She is in fact a victim here.

Second, Prothero may have a legitimate beef with the blood libel reference, but he does himself no favors by failing to present the whole picture. He looks like just another liberal piling on. I pray that this is a reflection of the fact that he is an historian and not a journalist. Wink, wink. Allow me to provide some context.

In an esssay she posted on FB, Palin was complaining about the political finger-pointing — much of it specifically at her — following the mass shooting in Arizona. Here’s the paragraph in which she mentions “blood libel”:

Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, 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.

She’s right. And she’s not claiming to be a persecuted Jew. She probably lifted the “blood libel” reference from this WSJ column. Or maybe she does know the history and used the term anyway. Who knows. It would be politically savvy for her to respond to the Jewish leaders who’ve voiced their dismay about it. But honestly, I fail to see how her essay would incite such an uproar.

I’m not a Palin fan. I just get sick of the hypocrisy on the left.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 9:53 am

    Hear, hear.

  2. David Joel permalink
    January 13, 2011 2:53 pm

    Come, come, now, what Jews were charged with the shooting? None? It is a declared Christian,, Sarah Palin, that has been charged by the knee jerk liberals.
    “Blood Liable”, as defined, is no more a rudeness against the Jews than it was a common charge against the Christians, especially by the Romans. A prime example is recorded in OCTAVIOUS , where Caecilius begs to argue against the Christian Octavious in Chapter 9: “The Religion of the Christians is Foolish, Inasmuch as They Worship a Crucified Man, and Even the Instrument Itself of His Punishment. They are Said to Worship the Head of an Ass, and Even the Nature of Their Father. They are Initiated by the Slaughter and the Blood of an Infant, even the drinking of its blood, and in Shameless Darkness They are All Mixed Up in an Uncertain Medley.” That, dear reader, is only one of a plethora of false charges found in ancient history blood liable against Christians.


  1. Rabbi Boteach defends Palin’s use of “blood libel” « The Grand Scheme

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