Sarah Palin responded in a video this morning to the criticism she has received in the wake of the Tucson shooting, but many people today have been more interested in her choice language than the actual substance of her video response.
"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 that they purport to condemn," Palin said in the video.
She was referring to the criticism she received over her use of images of crosshairs to "target" certain lawmakers during the midterm election cycle.
As the New York Times' Michael Shear explained, "By using the term 'blood libel' to describe the criticism about political rhetoric after the shootings, Ms. Palin was inventing a new definition for an emotionally laden phrase. Blood libel is typically used to describe the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. The term has been used for centuries as the pretext for anti-Semitism and violent pogroms against Jews."
The use of that phrase sparked some commotion in the Jewish community and spurred others to come to Palin's defense. While the term has deep connotations, there are other examples of its use in a modern political context.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Jewish political group J Street released a statement saying he was "saddened" by Palin's use of the term "blood libel."
The term, he said, "brings back painful echoes of a very dark time in our communal history when Jews were falsely accused of committing heinous deeds. 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."
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement that in part defended Palin, saying she had "every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks." However, the group said, "we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."
Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition's board of directors, did not address Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel," but said, "It it would have been even better if she simply rose above the accusations about her map and focused entirely on the bigger message of loss, tragedy and the greatness of our country.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who often comments on Israeli affairs, came to Palin's defense, saying that the term has "taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse." Dershowitz said he has used the term himself to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. He added, "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."
Ben Smith of Politico also points out that the phrase has been used in a political context before. For instance, the New York Post used it in a 1999 headline "after Hillary Clinton stood by as Suha Arafat accused the Israelis of 'daily and intensive use of poison gas' against Palestinian women and children," Smith reports.
Conservative pundit Glenn Reynolds used the phrase in a Wall Street Journal op-ed just two days ago.