Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin released a statement Wednesday denouncing efforts to blame her for the Tucson shooting rampage. But her use of the controversial phrase "blood libel," which refers to anti-Semitic falsehoods dating back hundreds of years, inflamed her critics and drew condemnation from some Jewish groups.
While acknowledging that Palin has a right to defend herself against unwarranted attacks, the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish organization, said in a statement, "We wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."
J Street, a liberal Jewish organization, said, "When Governor Palin learns that many Jews are pained by and take offense at the use of the term, we are sure that she will choose to retract her comment, apologize and make a less inflammatory choice of words."
In a lengthy video posted on her Facebook page, Palin said, "Like many, I've spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance.
"After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event."
Palin called efforts to attribute blame for the shooting "reprehensible," saying that "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."
The phrase "blood libel" refers to a centuries-old anti-Semitic slander: that Jews use the blood of Christian children for religious rituals. The false accusation has been used as an excuse for persecution and murder of Jews from the Middle Ages to the Holocaust and modern times. Palin's use of the phrase only makes her role in this tragedy - involving a Jewish congresswoman - more controversial.
"I would have advised against using it - the term is historically unique and refers specifically to false charges of ritual murder," said Noam Neusner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and the son of a famed Talmudic scholar. "While Ms. Palin has a legitimate gripe against her liberal critics, who were wrong to associate the Tucson shooter with her politics, she is using a term that simply does not apply. She could have simply used the word 'libel' and she would have been fine."
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant, said, "The comparison is stupid. Jews and rational people will find it objectionable. This will forever link her to the events in Tucson. It deepens the hole she's already dug for herself. . . . It's absolutely inappropriate."
But Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz defended Palin, saying he had used the term himself to defend Israel. "There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim."