Palin Borrows ‘Blood Libel’ from Israeli Far Right

Sarah Palin in her response to the controversy over her violent political imagery and that of the US right wing in general in the wake of the Tucson massacre, provoked a new controversy when she said,

“Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”

The “blood libel” was the false and outrageous accusation launched against Jews in medieval and early modern Europe by Christians that they stole Christian babies and used their blood in secret rituals. This bizarre obsession of European Christians resulted in attacks on and pogroms against the poor Jews on many occasions.

So why would a leader of white Christian populists (the kind of people who in previous eras have often been prejudiced against Jews) deploy the language of ‘blood libel’ to make her and her movement seem as though it were a persecuted minority?

I believe that the phrase was taken over by Palin’s speech writers from right wing Israeli discourse. Historian Melani McAlister argued in her book Epic Encounters that the US white right wing began using the Israelis in the late 1970s as a kind of collective Rambo figure to make themselves feel better about their declining power in world affairs. With the loss of the Vietnam War, the oil price spike, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the hostage crisis, the US went through what Jimmy Carter called a “malaise” and was threatened with loss of control over the Third World.

Israel also seemed besieged by Third World enemies, especially the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and so forth. Thus, a successful Israeli operation such as the rescue of hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976 gave the American right wing heart. Israelis were promoted into the ranks of white people (“whiteness,” which began by implying a northern European Protestant ethnicity, can be gained or lost over time by ethnic groups in the United States). The Israelis’ victories over brown peoples were psychological palliatives for the raw feelings of declining American white populists. This surrogacy, Rambo function of Israel for the American right wing was reinforced by September 11 and by the reconfiguration of the Palestinians, among the more secular people in the Middle East, as wild-eyed Muslim fanatics (an image that rather erases the Christian Palestinians from the scene).

In the past ten years both the American right wing and the Israeli right wing have suffered the humiliations of victory. The invasion and occupation of Iraq produced US torture, atrocities, and local civil war, a refutation by reality of the Right’s hopes of restoring the tarnished reputation of war and empire. The Israeli right, which is anyway not a self-reflective set of political traditions, increasingly did not know its own strength. Its wars on little Lebanon and littler Gaza did not look to the world like a David and Goliath story a la the Six Dar War with Egypt and Jordan. Those wars looked like a world class military and a high-tech society beating up on small, less developed neighbors. The Israeli disregard for Arab civilian life, moreover, appalled all close observers who cared about human rights and the international law of war. At the same time, the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank brought increasing misery to stateless, helpless Palestinians.

The Goldstone Report for the United Nations was among the first major extended critiques of Israeli crimes against civilian Palestinians to gain international credibility. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party pushed back against it last November in New Orleans. The Jerusalem Post reported of Netanyahu that he denounced the ‘delegitimization’ of Israel by documents such as the Goldstone report on civilian casualties and called it “a modern day blood libel.”

Psychiatrist Alfred Adler argued that the central human neurosis is an inferiority complex deriving from feelings of inadequacies in childhood, and that some people deal with it by over-compensating and developing a superiority complex, leading them to denigrate and put down others on the basis of ethnicity, for instance. That is, some people deal with their feelings of inadequacy by becoming competent and confident and positive toward their neighbors. Others deal with them by becoming bullies. Netanyahu is a classic of the latter sort, as his rhetoric demonstrates. The Gaza War cannot be criticized because that would make Netanyahu face the inadequacies he has suppressed through his bullying demeanor. To protect himself from critique he must make himself an innocent victim, attacked by the irrational hatreds of others.

In this way, the Goldstone Report, headed by a prominent Jewish jurist, becomes equivalent to the medieval persecution of Jews by fanatical and bigoted Christians.

For the Israeli far right wing, a peace process with Palestinians and the prospect of living with them is itself a blood libel. The USG Open Source Center translated the following:

‘ Washington Talks ‘New Blood Libel’ Against Jews

In a commentary entitled “Who Needs the Palestinian People?” published 23 August on the “Aveterra” LiveJournal blog, Mikha’el Goldenberg writes: “In light of the upcoming talks at the White House and Arab ultimatums, I will venture to declare this meeting ‘the new blood libel’ of the US Administration and its accessories with the aim of destroying the Jewish people under the pretext of peace. The Arabs of Gaza need to be resettled (according to the old 1943 US plan, which the UK opposed) to the territory of Iraq. The Arabs of Judea and Samaria should follow them. The Arabs of Israel must swear loyalty to the State of Israel, or else they can leave to the four winds. Otherwise, their very existence here is a pretext for all wars. No Arab state on historic Jewish land, on the biblical land of the Jewish people. If the United States, Russia, and Europe do not recognize this, then as traitors of their ancestors, who prayed according to the Holy Scriptures, they are unworthy to live on the earth.” (Aveterra LiveJournal in Russian — “Israeli Agency for Political and Politological Information” blog of anonymous writer… )

In this anonymous pro-squatter screed, opposition to the ethnic cleansing of millions of innocent Palestinians is equivalent to pogroms against Jewry.

The misuse of the ‘blood libel’ defense reached a crescendo of absurdity in early 2010, when a rabbi accused of sexual indiscretions dismissed the charges as… you guessed it… ‘a blood libel.’

Palin took the long-standing American right wing populist use of the Israelis as a symbol of white biblical riposte to the siege of pagan brown peoples a step further on Wednesday. She actually identified her followers as themselves a sort of tribe of Israel, and thus open to the same kind of persecution that the children of Israel have long suffered from. This extreme identification with the themes of the Likud and Shas Parties in Israel is an extension of the long-standing tradition of Christian Zionism. Whether Palin’s diction goes beyond that movement to suggest a strain of British Israelism is unclear.

The parallels to the right wing in Israel are exact. Just as its leaders complain that restraints on Israeli freedom of action in killing civilians during wars, or pressure on Israel to accept peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians, are a ‘blood libel,’ so any criticism of Palin for deploying a rhetoric of violence and warfare in civilian politics is likewise a blood libel.

The bully, afflicted by an inferiority complex, sees all opposition as unfair persecution.

34 Responses

  1. frankly, i find it more likely that palin or whoever chose that phrase for her had no idea of its origin, but instead approximately thought it meant “falsely accusing someone of having blood on their hands” and was perhaps simply lifting it from some other “friendly” commentator on the lazy assumption that that person was using it correctly. after all, lazy thinking is kind of a virtue in the palin camp.

    however, admittedly there could be more to it, as you suggest. nevertheless, palin is despicable.

    p.s. thank you for this website professor cole.

    • More evidence that Palin is a neocon invention. Palin’s mentor and paid adviser is Randy Scheunemann. This man is radical zionist who was a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq and is now a cheerleader for the bombing of Iran. Since Scheunemann controls every word Palin mouths, this term probably originated with him or one of the speech writers he approved of. If what I have read of Palin’s personality is true, blaming everyone else for her gaffs,Mr. S would be on his way out the door. This won’t happen because he has powerful media connections and can raise lots of moolah for the former runway beauty queen.

      I thought HuffPost had an interesting article this morning about Palin’s use of a quote from Ronald Reagan. Palin said in here internet speech, which was designed to smooth over her use of gun sights on Rep Giffords re-election bid, that Reagan said a crime begins and ends with the criminal, not with society. Meaaning, she could not be held responsible for the shooters actions. However, in the case of the Muslim center that is to be built in NYC, Ms. Palin was only to happy to associate the center with the men who brought down the twin towers. In demonizing the Muslim center she acted completely contrary to her statement that justified her actions

      What a fruitake!

  2. “I believe that the phrase was taken over by Palin’s speech writers from right wing Israeli discourse.”

    Or, with the well documented — “rogue” (or shall we say, “unlettered”) — nature of the principle subject’s public discourse in mind, a simpler explanation (Occam’s razor) might be closer to the truth. Familiarity with the etymology of that phrase might be an “unfair” accusation to make.

    • With Palin, “familiarity” with language and the actual meaning of words and phrases is always left in doubt–hence, the occasional rise of a new word like “refudiate”. Most likely it was the puppeteer who sent “blood libel” down the string and the lady obediently delivered. She’s not the type who would ask beforehand what it meant.

  3. In general, the amazing level of defensiveness on the part of all the right-wing commentators & pundits is the opposite of persuasive to anyone who has had to deal with a small child having a tantrum.

    They are now leading themselves to the insane, anti-historical argument that no one’s words have any effect on any other human being! Simply from the necessity of finding any line of argument to claim that their own repeated intemperate, deliberately inflammatory language has not been an influence on America’s latest assassin!

    Not to mention that this inflammatory language of theirs has included numerous completely false statements (such as Barak Obama being a socialist, or that most American liberals actively desire a larger, more expensive government structure) that these right-wing pundits must be either complete knowingly-lying hypocrites, or absolute ignoramuses to utter these statements.

    Thus does hundreds of millions of dollars of donations to Heritage Institutes and American Enterprise institiutes and the various Likudist think-tanks dissolve in a mist of absurdities and unpersuasive pettifoggery …

    • They are saying that when an American patriot calls for violence, it has a divine moral sanction, so it cannot lead to evil. Whereas when a leftist calls for violence, anyone who influenced him is evil, anyone who supports him is evil, and he is responsible for anything bad that might be tied to him.

      Which in simplest terms, reduces to “the ends justify the means”. America is God’s instrument on Earth, so its patriots’ ends are divine and if their means of calling for war and execution or imprisonment of their enemies causes them to win elections, then any other bad things that result (like someone actually carrying out the requested act instead of remembering to vote for a Tea Partier or send money to Palin) are irrelevant.

      But if anyone else does it, vice versa. There can be no fair contest or objective rules against God.

  4. As much as you may dislike Palin and her ideas, she’s not setting any policies. Look at what Obama said in his speech in Arizona. These are the most hypocritical words I’ve ever seen. He said that what matters in the end is “how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.” So I suppose your Afghan war has made the lives of the people there better. Or maybe they’re not really people since they’re not American people. Obama wiped his eye during his speech. But does he have any tears for the people whose lives his government has destroyed? No.

    He cited the Book of Job, saying “terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding … and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath. For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”

    Who’s the more violent man? The one who kills six people, or the one who kills six hundred thousand people? That’s the body count for Iraq. Of course, Mr. Obama didn’t start that war and he brought some troops home, but he also was never morally against it, and he continues the war in Afghanistan, one which even conservatives like Ann Coulter are capable of saying it’s wrong to be there.

    The most appalling moment in Obama’s speech was when he used the death of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old victim of the random shooting, to speak about his “hopes and dreams” for the country. “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want America to be as good as she imagined it.” She was a fun loving little child who loved animals. I wonder if she would’ve liked to have seen bombs dropped on innocent families in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’m guessing that would’ve made her cry. Yet the cheers for the president at the memorial/pep rally in Arizona were all that was heard. What a country.

    • You’re really grasping at straws, Colin. It’s distasteful.

        • Also, even if you don’t accept my moral argument, you can at least agree that these wars are bankrupting the country.

        • I don’t disagree with you about the Afghan occupation, nor the Iraqi occupation, for that matter. Yeah, it’s “bankrupting” our nation, in both a financial and a moral sense. Definitely, the civilian victims of our video-game steered robo-bombs, our bombings, our assorted runs are no less deserving than a small child born on this nation’s Most Sacred Day© (a copyrighted trademark of the Republican Party.)

          However, I think that your bringing in this issue, in this context, at that time, was in poor taste. But go ahead – activists generally have poor taste and no manners. It’s the only way to get people’s attention for important matters.

    • Colin…My thoughts exactly. Anyone guess how many soldier died in Afghanistan this past week? Eight. Eight soldiers died which di not even warrent a mention on the nightly news, much less, a presidential nationwide televised memorial.

      I would like to see protesters at every event Ms. Obama makes reminding her that children, not unlike her daughters, are being killed by a US military drone video pilot sitting in Maryland.

      • I was actually talking about the Afghan and Pakistani people who died from our military, not the soldiers who volunteer to go over there and kill. And there have been protests. There was just one recently at the White House. I don’t think Mrs. Obama was paying attention, though.

    • So you see no connection at all between the eliminationist, exceptionalist rhetoric of the Tea Party and the criminal traditions of America that you claim to oppose?

      Because America could start much worse wars than the recent ones and it has a movement that believes the entire world outside of America is evil.

  5. I had figured that Palin or her speechwriters had cribbed it from Glenn Reynolds’s WSJ article from a few days ago: link to

    So as the usual talking heads begin their “have you no decency?” routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?

    But your article explains where he got it from.

  6. RE: “Palin Borrows ‘Blood Libel’ from Israeli Far Right”
    Exclusive: Alan Dershowitz Defends Sarah Palin’s Use of Term ‘Blood Libel’ ~ by Publius @ Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Government”[lol!-JLD], 01/12/11
    In an exclusive statement, famed attorney and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz defended Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” from multiple detractors. As the Media Matters/MSM/Democrat narrative on the Tucson tragedy unravels, they are getting a lot more desperate in their attacks on Palin. Fortunately, there are still plenty of honest liberals[lol!-JLD]around:(Dershowitz excerpts)”The term ‘blood libel’ has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning…I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report…” SOURCE – link to

    • Bingo! Most of the lefty commentators I’ve been listening to since yesterday have missed this. Also, thanks, Dr. Cole, for the detailed recent historical discussion.

  7. A long time ago I realized that an automobile is four wheels, an engine and drive train, seats and steering and brakes. All the rest is sheet metal and plastic, or for the Blessed Rich, leather and burled walnut.

    Seems to me that so much of the analysis of “political” behavior partakes of the rapturing or sniggering over the appearance of the sheet metal and trim, with little attention (except for how “visceral” the engine and exhaust sound, and the “visceral” kick of longitudinal and lateral accelerations and decelerations.) We are offended and angered and polarized by the color or shape of a fender or bumper, and from familiarity never pay any attention to the nature of the underlying mechanism. Which may take us on nice shopping trips, or motivate us into the world of “Grand Theft Auto.”

    I tend to harp on what I consider a horrible failure, the blindness humans have when it comes to trying to understand that “auto-motive” function that leads to “identification of The Enemy,” “The Enemy” seeming to be an archetype that is the key to a really hot set of “wheels” of behavior. Analysis and understanding and the potential to manage and control the neuronic structures we are born with seem to stop at the point of identifying individuals to groups that are either for us or agin’ us, temporarily cooperating or indifferent or hostile-ly competing or actively at war. And to parsing the particularities of the Parsee or Pashto or Farsi or renascent revanchist Israelite. Seems to me that other than a few saints or the oblivious or impaired, humans love their Enemy — only in the tiny, narrow, friction-generating, black-body-enormous-heat-radiating sense that “The Enemy” they all unconsciously place, or have cynically placed by others, in their intellectual or blued-steel gunsights is a necessity of life, without which organization and meaningfulness and even the higher virtues like altruism and empathy will not manifest.

    Folks love their SUVs and Lotus Europas and Maybachs, and can give you chapter and verse on why that particular consumer of petroleum, steel and coal is “the best” body to carry their aspirations and sense of self and their cherished offspring or trophy spouses around. The whole functioning part of the transport may be vaguely sensed, especially when some part fails or makes annoying noises, but is largely out of their conscious awareness even though deeply present in their consciousnesses.

    What Prof. Cole writes above seems to me a piece of the necessary hood-lifting and undercarriage-poking and troubleshooting. The stuff that the SOBs who run the dealerships, and the guys who engineer the doorframes and weather seals and latches to produce the “solid” sound signature, and the chemists and behavioral psychologists who compound mix of aromatics that prolong that New-Car Smell, that tell the average unconscious Consumer that this is Their Kind Of Quality Vehicle, don’t want you to be consciously aware of at all. So we subdivide into partisans for Dodge or Ford or Chevrolet, to the point of beer-muscle bar fights and internet exchanges that include “hate speech” of the most vehement and incite-ful sort. Yasser Arafat and Netanyahu and Obama and Palin and a whole planetful of other used car salesman don’t want the freiers drawn to the car lot to look under the hood or under the bodywork and really understand what-all it MEANS to locomote, to “See the USA in your Chevrolet,” to “savor the Cadillac experience.” Because everyone NEEDS “wheels” to get around in, right? The whole culture is built on that presumption…

  8. thanks for explaining what the history of this “blood libel” Palin alludes to. Puts Palin’s motives in better context after hearing this.

    Palin always seems to make things more messed up every time she opens her mouth. will be interesting to see where this leads.

  9. I have a question about the meaning and use of the term Zionism. I recall that in the sixties, when I grew up in New Jersey, Zioism referred exclusively to people who advocated a Greater Israel and had no tolerance or concern for Palestinians. Among my many Jewish friends, liberal and secular, Zionism was a no-no, extreme, bigoted. Nowadays it seems to have evolved into an ‘elegant variant’ of pro-Israeli. Am I mistaken? If not, did the change occur in the US or Israel or in tandem in both countries (e.g. AIPAC, Likud, etc.)?

    • Why? Her supporters don’t care about this sort of linguistic/historical subtlety. Indeed as far as I can tell, their reaction to the discussion about the “blood libel” expression is simply further entrenched solidarity with Palin against those nit-picking egghead liberal academics and a belief that if “the only thing one can criticize about her is her making a slip of the tongue, it proves how great she is” yada-yada.

  10. If you are not familiar with the popular TV program, NCIS, I suggest you watch a couple of episodes. NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigation Service, but the characters on this show do more terrorist fighting that criminal investigating.

    They are particularly fixated with Al-Qaida and various Muslim terrorists. They depict a special primary alliance between the US and Israel, and have placed an actual Mossad operative on the investigative team and portray her as a kind of super agent. She is named Ziva David and her father is the head of Mossad itself.

    Several scenes have been placed in a room where the head of NCIS is viewing screens showing the feeds from American drones blowing up “terrorist” vehicles and ships.

    My point is that Hollywood has no trouble with the concept of a special political and military alliance with Israel so intimate as to be practically an integration of their forces with ours, with theirs being actually better. American TV viewers apparently have accepted this without question as reflecting reality.

  11. Interesting and perhaps even a useful take on the underlying psycho-pathologies. Still, in a given case, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    I have trouble seeing Palin or her handlers having such a deeper understanding of what Blood Libel means. I rather think that for them the phrase merely had the rhetorical ring they were looking for. For most of us common folk, the phrase might more likely have evoked the Hatfields and McCoys, as in Blood Feud. To attribute anything more may be giving these people too much credit.

  12. link to Best thing I’ve read, by an Aussie academic no less! though not succinct,it gives a deeper background for Palin’s belief system and those who rabidly support her.

  13. Having read the new posts and the new info, I think I may be all wrong about Palin.

    When it gets down to it, Obama, for example, is really just our Salesperson-In-Chief. Whatever his intentions when elected, Obama is bound by the momentum of events and elite (establishment) pressure and advice to do their bidding. The GWOT and banking reform have changed not a whit. His practical function has been to put a better face on established policy; the best the Little People can hope for is that he resists the sort of BIG screw-ups that GWB embraced.

    Leading me to rethink Palin. If Randy S. is her handler-in-chief, then the rhetorical premeditation of that phrase really could have been deliberate and witting, not that she personally would have known it.

    Its way to easy to start seeing conspiracies, and even worse, not seeing them when they really do exist. I have never bought the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, but the free-floating loosely-knit group of kindred souls elaborated on by Mearsheimer and Walt is persuasive. Going along with these formal and informal groups is the work done by thousands of individuals of more or less influence.

    Like Alan Derschowitz.
    And like those lesser knowns who influence the media and its programming. Speaking of programming in a different sense, whenever you (Pragmatic Realist), or anyone else, watch NCIS you are being programmed to the rightness of the special relationship between the US and its 51rst state. (I keep repeating that line about the 51rst state, so should say I first heard the phrase used by a bodyguard to Ehud Barak, who in a grad school seminar with a dozen American students, couldn’t contain himself and with unsettling passion interjected how we should understand how Israel sees itself as such).

    It doesn’t end there. From old movies like Exodus to any number of spy novels, the relationship mentioned above dominates and is reinforced. Its propagation/propaganda by a thousand mentions….the very essence of what mktg people call “branding.” It becomes an accepted wisdom through repetition that makes it part of the accepted background scenery.

  14. Jimmy Carter never used the word “malaise.” It was used by pundits after his speech. Just sayin’.

  15. Palin used the word ‘purport.’ Sarah Palin uses homey phrases such as ‘mama grizzley’ and there is a strong chance she had never heard the word ‘purport’ until now.

    We should consider that not only did she not write her speech, but also the possibility that she doesn’t understand what she said.

  16. I thought the letter Scooter Libby wrote to fellow neocon and former NYTimes liar Judith Miller was revealing, as to the connection you spoke about. He told her that they were like trees and their roots all connected.

  17. Writes Don, who seems as obsessed with neocons as Greg Loughner with grammar: “Since Scheunemann controls every word Palin mouths…” Gosh, and the left complains about the mindless conspiracy theories of the right.

  18. Since Sarah Palin’s foreign policy statements are in lockstep with Israel’s Netanyahu and Mr.Scheunemann, which is for the US to start a third war, this time with Iran, I think a senseable person can look at a few minutes of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” and conclude she doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the dynamics of a balanced middle eastern foreign policy. Therefore I conclude Mr. Scheunemann writes her speechs and coaches her on what to think.

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