Belief Beat

I had to bang out a story for Religion News Service this morning about the fallout over Sarah Palin’s use of the loaded term “blood libel” in her Facebook response to critics who have made a connection between her kind of aggressive campaign rhetoric and the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday.

Sarah Palin: “America’s Enduring Strength” from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.

On the one hand, I doubt the average evangelical Christian from present-day Alaska — definitely not the alternate-universe Alaska of Michael Chabon’s excellent “Yiddish Policeman’s Union” — knows what “blood libel” really means, in the context of its historical use as justification for anti-Semitism and centuries of Jewish suffering. Palin probably saw the term thrown around in the last few days, either in this Wall Street Journal op-ed piece or elsewhere in the blogosphere, and figured it’s a catchy phrase for a false accusation related to bloodshed. After all, coining new words — or in this case, stretching the meaning of existing words — is something that a living language can “celebrate,” right?

On the other hand, the fact that this statement came out four days after the Arizona shooting — several lifetimes in Palin’s Twitterverse — and her general penchant for (up)loaded little soundbites (end-of-life counseling = “death panels,” also via Facebook) indicates there’s some deliberate use of language here.

My favorite and appropriately pithy take on all this came via Twitter, courtesy of @jewlicious: “Oh Sarah Palin: Calling bad press a blood libel is like calling a rough day at work the Holocaust.” As for the hundreds of Jewish and secular media responses to Palin’s statement within the last eight hours, here’s my pick for the most interesting so far: ‘Blood Libel and Sarah Palin: Christian Conservatives’ Infatuation With Judaism (Politics Daily).

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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