Sarah Palin’s invocation of the loaded term “blood libel” in responding to the Tucson tragedy enraged many, but some observers cut her a break for her latest rhetorical misstep.
In an eight-minute video posted on her Facebook page yesterday, Palin deployed the term “blood libel” in describing accusations her aggressive rhetoric helped fuel the shooting that left six dead and a U.S. congresswoman gravely wounded.
The term, however, historically describes the false accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children in religious rituals.
It was unclear if Palin, who coined the word “refudiate,” understood the term’s history, and she didn’t immediately respond to the firestorm of criticism, which angered as much as baffled many observers.
“It’s nuts. It’s a bad use of language, it’s not relatable, and it will only make things much more controversial,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant.
David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, agreed, saying Palin’s comment is “hardly a step in the right direction.”
But Benyamin Korn, director of Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, said Palin was right to call attacks on her blood libel, adding that wider cultural use of the term has broadened its definition.
“It’s entirely appropriate, because she’s being accused of actually having caused or contributed to the murder and maiming of those people, which is false,” he said.
Indeed, George Jochnowitz, former professor of linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, said that while Palin’s words were careless, the controversy is in part about semantics.
“I don’t think she wanted to be malicious, and she should’ve just avoided it,” he said. “But words like these can be overused and lose their significance.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) condemned Palin’s word choice, saying politicians should know better, as did the Anti-Defamation league.
“As leaders, we have to use language that brings people together, not more vitriol that divides us,” Gillibrand said.
In the end, both Sheinkopf and conservative blogger and political consultant Karol Markowicz said the controversy won’t affect Palin’s political prospects.
“The lines are drawn, and what’s happened in the last few days won’t affect her future career,” Markowicz said.