Bloody rhetoric and blood libel

The Wall Street Journal has published an article by Shmuley Boteach saying that Sarah Palin is "right" to accuse her critics of "blood libel" for linking her political rhetoric to the murders in Arizona. Its author says it is appropriate to use that term "whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder."

Does this mean that Sarah Palin is an "amorphous mass"?

"Blood libel" is a term historically used to describe various falsehoods linking Jews to murder, beginning with the accusation that they were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. In 1173, Boteach writes, Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth promoted blood libel against Jews by falsely claiming that they had tortured and stabbed to death a young boy. "While William was canonized, the Jews of Norwich fared less well. On Feb. 6, 1190, they were all found slaughtered in their homes, save those who escaped to the local tower and committed mass suicide."

Of course, there are some differences between the criticisms of Palin and her supporters, and the criticism which Thomas of Monmouth richly deserves for his libel against the Jews. For example, I don't believe anyone has actually accused Sarah Palin of personally torturing and murdering someone. They're saying that her rhetoric incites violence. This distinction is evidently too subtle for the Wall Street Journal, but it exists, and it matters.

I also don't believe that the Jews who were massacred in the 12th century were in the habit of circulating literature in which they used rifle crosshairs to target Christians, as Sarah Palin has done with her campaign against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other Democrats. I don't believe the Jews went around posing with rifles either, and I don't think they rallied one another with slogans such as, "Don't retreat, reload."

One other difference between the criticisms of Sarah Palin and the blood libel against the Jews is that the Jews actually suffered violence themselves as a result of that libel, whereas Palin has not suffered in any similar fashion. To the contrary, she is now a millionaire with a TV show, book sales, and presidential aspirations.

The people who have suffered violence, in this case, were the innocent people gunned down by Jared Loughner at that Safeway — including of course Congresswoman Giffords and the six people who died, and also the injured survivors like Eric Fuller, a 63-year-old veteran who was shot once in the leg and once in the back. Fuller believes that Palin deserves criticism for her use of violent rhetoric and holds her partly responsible for the massacre. "If you are going to scream hatred and preach hatred, you're going to sow it after a while if you've got a soap box like they've got," he said in an interview following the shooting.

In saying these things, Fuller is evidently guilty of "blood libel" according to Palin and the Wall Street Journal, while Palin, who does not have two bullet holes in her body, is somehow the victim in all of this. The mind boggles.

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