When I heard Sarah Palin’s reaction to shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on BBC America News, which we watch every night, I didn’t know what the phrase "blood libel" meant. The announcers on the show evinced surprise at Palin’s statement and one commentator said, "Does she know what it means?" Since I didn’t either, I thought I’d better find out.
Fingers are being pointed at Palin because, during the recent Presidential campaign, she made inflammatory statements like "Don’t retreat, reload" and released a US map with "targets" on it, one of them in Giffords’ district. The trusty Financial Times finally explained what "blood libel" means–According to the January 13 edition, "It refers to an anti-Semitic slur from the Middle Ages alleging that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in Passover rituals. The myth has historically been used to defend attacks on Jews." The article went on to mention that Giffords is Jewish (something I didn’t know).
Then Rick Rojas in the Los Angeles Times told me more: "One of the first recorded tragedies attributed to blood libel occurred in the 12th century, when a boy named William in Norwich, England, was found dead with stab wounds. Local Jews were accused of killing the child in a ritual fashion and most of the Jewish population there was subsequently wiped out. "Such charges continued for centuries, with Jews often assigned blame in the unsolved killings of children. Many of the dead children were considered martyrs–several were elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches."
And (of course) the phrase was also used to castigate Jews during the Nazi era. Since Palin ISN’T Jewish, it’s odd that she would be using this word to react to the criticism she herself has received. She could be referring to so-called "Jewish liberal" publications like the New York Times, which have never endorsed her. This reminds me of something I’ve often thought about Hitler: The mystery of his ascent to power is not WHY he was the way he was (any competent psychologist could explain that in 15 minutes and be bored doing it) but WHY the German populace believed his ridiculous rants against the Jews and followed him into a devastating war.
After the first World War, Germany was left devastated, its money and honor gone. The only people who were somewhat solvent were a few Jewish financiers and bankers, however this doesn’t explain all that hatred, especially since most Jews were as poor as everyone else. Despite the fact that Congress has just given our rich a huge tax break, WE don’t hate them (in fact, in many ways we honor them, maybe because we hope we’ll be like that ourselves in the future). While targeting the Jews was clearly a political move, Hitler singling out the Jewish population as scapegoats probably had nothing to do with that. Instead, I think it had to do with pride and self-image, as demonstrated by the Nazi obsession with "Aryan" values, myths and attainments. Is this part of what the American right wing is about too?
If it’s a reaction to the election of a black man to our top office, it could be dismay at the realization that whites are now no longer automatically at the top of the political pecking order. This could also reflected in the new laws passed against illegal aliens (basically, Mexicans) in Arizona, where the Giffords shooting occurred. I fear that Mexicans are becoming our new "Jews," despite the fact that our farms will die without them, so we have to find a way to let them cross the border legally (and cross back when the picking season is over). We can’t let Nazi-like scapegoating happen here. With their rhetoric, the far right is playing with fire but, as usual, it’s the innocents who get burned.