CST Blog

One "blood libel"; but what about the others?

14 January 2011

The wave of revulsion expressed by media and others to Sarah Palin's abuse of the term "blood libel" is to be welcomed, but also highlights the complex nature of condemnations of this type.

To briefly recap; six people, including a nine year old girl were murdered by a gunman who nearly assassinated Arizona's first Jewish congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Palin said that she (i.e. Sarah Palin - not the murdered nine year old, nor Gabrielle Giffords) had suffered a "blood libel", due to criticism of her aggressive campaigning against Giffords and other political opponents. (This included having previously featured Giffords on a map showing 20 political opponents - marked by 'cross-hairs'. There seems to be no evidence that the gunman knew of the map.)

It is not clear if Palin was aware of the antisemitic origins of the term, "blood libel", which refers to accusations that Jews kidnap and kill Christian children in order to use their blood or organs for religious ritual. Nevertheless, her critics are most certainly aware of the origin of the phrase and are using it against her for their benefit.

I always find it somewhat unsettling to see antisemitism being used as a party-political battlefield. If Jewish representative bodies make comment at such times, the likeliest outcome is that their words will be brandished by one side against the other; despite whatever genuine and moral motivations those Jewish bodies may have had when making the initial comment. In Britain, the most recent example of this concerned the Michal Kaminski controversy during the last party conference season prior to the 2010 General Election. (See pages 48-50, CST Antisemitic Discourse Report 2009, pdf accessed via this page.)

Then, there is the unavoidable whiff of hypocrisy, or selective outrage.

This works on many levels, with the most obvious one being that it is who says it - rather than what is said - that actually counts in the court of media opinion. Of course, Sarah Palin's profile means that when she says "blood libel", it carries more impact than had it been said by Michael Palin. (I presume they are unrelated.) Nevertheless, it is not as if her use of blood libel will actually have much bearing upon Jews; unlike other themes I will cover below.

To focus on the immediate question of blood libel, you have Iran's Press TV, which actually makes such libels (in English) against Jews and Israelis on their website. Startling examples of this from 2010 and 2009, previously covered by CST Blog are here, here and here. Press TV runs a proper studio in London; is carried on the Sky network; and supposedly respectable people still present and appear upon its programmes, including from the anti-racist left. There is no popular outrage against this.

Next, you have indirect examples of blood libel - summarised by this Dry Bones cartoon, seeing comparison between the old blood libel against Jews; and some depictions of Israel from its opponents. In Britain, there were those who stated that Caryl Churchill's 2009 play "Seven Jewish Children" resonated with the blood libel. Dave Rich and I concentrated on how the Guardian's representation of the play amplified this problem. (The article was, to their credit, published on Comment is Free, here.)

Similarly, there were those who expressed outrage against Dave Brown's cartoon in the Independent, of Ariel Sharon actually eating Palestinian babies. This does not appear to have done any damage to Brown's career. Indeed, he won the Political Cartoon of the Year award 2003 for it. (The award is not as grandiose as it sounds, but the Independent trumpeted it.)

Then, you have the routine use of blood libel imagery, Jews as vampires etc in much Arab media; and in rhetoric from Arab politicians and Islamist groups throughout the world. (Much of this differs from cartoons such as Brown's, which depicts an Israeli, rather than the grotesque stereotyped Jews, as seen in Arab cartoons and TV programmes.)

There are so many thousands of such images and words that it seems futile and inadequate to pick one to illustrate the case. It is only entertaining examples of this that tend to find traction in the media, such as the recent (non-blood libel) cases of Mossad killer sharks in Egypt, and Mossad spy vultures in Saudi Arabia. The fact that their stupidity actually reveals a horrifyingly twisted mindset goes largely unremarked upon; whilst bloodcurdling rhetoric from those religious and political leaders who promote such hatreds is simply disregarded. Suffice to say, however, that many of those leading the charge against Palin's two word "blood libel" remain mute on this deluge of hatred, and its impact upon relations between Muslims and Jews; and upon the chances for Israel and her neighbours ever finding peace.

For me, however, there is one blood libel, or death libel, that stands out above all others - the use of the terms Nazi and Holocaust in relation to Israel and Zionists. There are politicians and commentators on the liberal-left who have indulged in such filth; and many more who have stood idly by whilst others have wallowed in it. We might expect this behaviour of far Left and Islamist extremists, but those supposedly mainstream politicians and commentators who also indulge in it should be packed off to Alaska, where they can deservedly enjoy the company of Sarah Palin, spending long winter nights together, arguing about who's insult was the graver, the more obvious; and the more deserving of furious condemnation.

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