Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blood Libel, the Apologists

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In every example used below, there is a Jewish connection. The articles directly reference the original meaning, or are written by Jews, and reference the state of Israel, and often all three. For the record, I am not saying that Palin uses the blood of children in religious rituals.

From a Dec. 5, 1989, Times book review: "During the yellow fever plague a form of blood libel is imposed on the blacks in Philadelphia; they are said to be both responsible for and immune to sickness because of the color of their skin."

On Sept. 14, 1990, the late Abe Rosenthal penned a column in response to Pat Buchanan's assertion, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, that "there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East - the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States." Rosenthal countered: "We are not dealing here with country-club anti-Semitism but with the blood libel that often grows out of it: Jews are not like us but are others, with alien loyalties for which they will sacrifice the lives of Americans."

Andrew Sullivan, whose Palin obsession is extreme even by the standards of Palin-haters, wrote yesterday:

We know this much right now: Palin does not possess the self-awareness, responsibility or composure to respond to crises like this with grace. This message--even at a time of national crisis--was a base-rousing rallying cry, perpetuating her own victimhood and alleged bloodthirstiness of her opponents.

One would have thought that Palin, like any responsible person in her shoes right now, could have mustered some sort of regret about the unfortunate coincidence of what she had done in the campaign and what happened afterwards. Wouldn't you?

Here is the same Andrew Sullivan, showing his typical level of self-awareness, responsibility and composure, in a post of Oct. 12, 2010:

[New York Republican nominee for governor Carl] Paladino speaks of "perverts who target our children and seek to destroy their lives." This is the gay equivalent of the medieval (and Islamist) blood-libel against Jews.

Our favorite example comes from Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com, who wrote yesterday, albeit with more smirk than dudgeon:

The claim that Sarah Palin was the victim of a "blood libel" had been making the rounds in the right-wing media for a few days before Palin decided to make the accusation herself.

On Nov. 21, 2000, Marshall quoted then-Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Florida Democrat, as complaining on CNN's "Crossfire" of "almost a blood libel by the Republicans towards Al Gore, saying that he was trying to stop men and women in uniform that are serving this country from voting. Marshall's response:

". . . almost a blood libel." That's pretty strong stuff. Strong, but not too strong. Because it's true.

(Deutsch can get away with this statement, in part, because he's Jewish. But so is Talking Points; so he gets a pass too!)

You don't just toss around charges that the possible next president of the United States is conspiring to take the vote away from American soldiers overseas. Given the volatility of the moment and the divisions already existing in American society it really is almost like a blood libel. Almost.

Deutsch's analogy is far more of a stretch than Palin's. No one was accusing Gore of killing children, or anyone else. OK, Deutsch said "almost," but does anyone think Marshall or the other Palin-haters would have been satisfied had she used the same qualification?

The only element Marshall cites that arguably makes the accusation against Gore worse than the accusations against Palin is "the divisions already existing in American society." In 2000, the country really was split down the middle between Bush and Gore--hence the election dispute. Today, as that USA Today poll shows, the country is largely united against the libel (blood or otherwise).

On CNN Sunday--we taped the show earlier this afternoon--Levy, a French intellectual, will declare it "obscene" to use the term "blood libel" in a metaphorical sense. This may reflect the standards that prevail in France, which of course has a much worse history of anti-Semitism than America does. In American intellectual and journalistic circles, however, the term has been used with some frequency. As a foreigner, Levy may not know better. But American Palin-haters lack that excuse.

For the Record
Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has generally been a voice of reasoned liberalism this week. We certainly never thought we'd write that, but it's been a strange week. Whether carelessly or deliberately, however, Chait misstates our position in a blog entry from this morning:

A few days ago, Paul Krugman noted that famously unhinged member of Congress Michele Bachmann urged her constituents to be "armed and dangerous." Wall Street Journal right-wing blogger James Taranto calls this a "lie," and insists the the context of Bachmann's full quote is very different.

In fact, what we called a lie was Krugman's characterization of the Bachmann quote as "eliminationist rhetoric," which Chait does not acknowledge, much less defend. We conceded that Bachmann's words were ill-chosen and that one might reasonably regard them as irresponsible, as Chait appears to.

Chait owes us a correction. We emailed him just after noon ET to ask for one. So far, he has not replied.

One Man's Tiramisu Is Another Man's Fruitcake
Ex-Rep. Paul Kanjorski, the Pennsylvania Democrat who said in October of now-Gov. Rick Scott of Florida that "they ought to . . . put him against the wall and shoot him," is defending his eliminationist rhetoric, reports the Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.:

Reached by phone Tuesday, Kanjorski said "only fruitcakes" would take his statement about Scott literally. The 73-year-old Democrat from Nanticoke, who this fall lost in his bid for a 14th term representing the 11th Congressional District, admitted he's well known for using "colorful language."

"I probably would never have made the statement if I anticipated anything like this happening," Kanjorski said. "It was obviously not in humor, but not literally."

Perhaps Kanjorski should heed this recommendation, from an editorial in the Seattle Times:

One cannot anticipate how high-caliber heinous vitriol will be translated by extreme and disturbed elements, but that is no excuse to dismiss such talk as colorful rhetoric.

Although come to think of it, only fruitcakes would take rhetorical advice from a writer who turns phrases like "high-caliber heinous vitriol."

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