The media is abuzz today about Gov. Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to describe the left’s appalling exploitation of the Arizona tragedy to demonize conservatism. Supposedly, this is an insult to the Jewish community given that “blood libel” can be defined as a purely anti-Semitic act, which requires one to accuse Jews of using human blood in religious rituals (which is the origin of the term). So far the debate has focused on semantics, highlighting technical definitions rather than the spirit in which the act was carried out.
I would humbly submit that we have to talk about blood libel in terms of the effect that it is meant to have – and I say this because I am one of the few modern Americans who can claim to have been personally targeted by a classic, anti-Semitic blood libel campaign designed to ostracize my family from our social circle. It was a traumatic experience for my family, I remember very well how I felt at the time – and I can tell you flat-out that the demonization that occurred this week made me feel the exact same way. So let’s have a talk about how blood libel affects people and what it’s designed to do – THEN we can talk about what does or doesn’t accomplish that goal.
In my case, the issue involved a Christian homeschool group of which my family was a member. At the time, I was in college but still living at home. We had left the Evangelical Church and began practicing Messianic Judaism a few years previous. Without getting hung up on details, that means that we believe in Jesus as Messiah but follow Judaism rather than Christianity as our worship practice. That doesn’t make us “Jewish” by the standard definition accepted by main-line Judaism – but I don’t want to split hairs about that, because anti-Semites generally don’t care about such distinctions.
Anyway, let’s just say that our observance of Torah didn’t sit well with a friend of the family, who expressed her concern to the leader of our large homeschool group – noting that she believed us to be “unsaved” and potentially influencing other people’s children on behalf of Satan. Personally, I believe this individual to have been sincere – if terribly misguided – in her concern. I will not say as much for the leader of the homeschool group, a rather domineering personality who had numerous clashes with my mother (the group’s de facto organizational secretary) over how the group was to be run. This individual seems to have seized on the situation in order to remove a threat to her unquestioned power over the group, and began a campaign to purge our family both from the leadership and from the group’s membership – which is where we get back to the issue of blood libel.
Not content merely to accuse us of heresy, the group leader upped the ante by trying to cast us a violent psychopaths in addition to being agents of Satanic infiltration. So, she launched a whisper campaign eerily similar to the more classical accusation that Jews need Christian blood to perform rituals. In this case, all of our friends received phone calls falsely accusing my mother of threatening to – and this is a direct quote – “disembowel your children and hang them on fenceposts.” This was followed by admonitions that our friends’ children should be locked up if my mother was ever invited over, as she was said to be a direct physical threat to their safety. This liar also indicated that she had considered calling the police, as she was so afraid for her safety. I can vouch for the fact that the incident never happened because I personally witnessed the conversation where the “fencepost” threat supposedly occurred (it wasn’t even heated). After this we were purged from group membership, disallowed from ever attending their functions, and my little sister lost most of her friends. I thought that such bald-faced anti-Semitism had been left in the Dark Ages where it belonged – but I was wrong.
I suppose you can dispute whether the “fenceposts” remark was ACTUALLY anti-Semitic blood libel – but considering that it came at the tail end of a long and blatantly anti-Semitic hate campaign by the individual in question, I have always considered it to be such. I can also attest to the traumatizing effect this practice can have on its targets.
Now, fast-forward to 2011, and we are talking about whether it is appropriate for Sarah Palin to use the term “blood libel” to describe the fashion in which she was personally blamed, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, for a savage and demented mass murder. In my mind, there is no question. This was blood libel of the most savage kind. There is absolutely no difference between what I feel now, as a member of a movement falsely accused of gunning down a Congresswoman, and what I felt when my family’s Judaism was used as supporting evidence in a campaign to falsely accuse us of psychotic threats of violence. I can’t imagine how Gov. Palin herself must feel after having been personally accused, considering that I was moved almost to tears simply as an anonymous member of the broader “tea party”.
“Blood libel” was coined as a term to describe false accusations of ritual murder against the Jewish people – but it’s an action verb, and it’s an act that can be committed in the future against anyone. We cannot and should not deny people the right to call this despicable act what it is. If we do so, we allow the perpetrators to continue using one of the most painful and traumatizing propaganda tactics ever invented.