Damian Thompson of the UK Telegraph thinksSarah Palin is “nuts” for using the term “blood libel” in her response to the Tucson killings and the subsequent media feeding frenzy.
1. She’s so ignorant that she doesn’t know that “blood libel” refers to the myth that Jews drink the blood of sacrificed children.
2. She does know what it means, and blurted it out anyway.
I guess the self styled religious expert Thompson is referring to the infamous Damascus Blood Libel of 1840. In that year a French monk, Father Thomas, vanished into thin air and the French consul in Damascus, Ratti Menton, claimed that Jewish merchants were responsible for the monk’s disappearance.
It was all part and parcel of a French attempt to re establish influence in Syria when it returned to direct Ottoman rule after several years of Egyptian control. The French were very close to the previous regime – indeed many Syrian Muslims feared that soon their land would eventually come under French rule. Once Ottoman authority was restored in 1840 some Muslims began advocating a policy of repressing the Christian minority so Menton needed an event to divert their anger elsewhere and the monk’s disappearance offered an opportunity too good to miss.
Until the early years of the nineteenth century traditionally relationships between Muslims and Jews in Syria had been relatively peaceful. But with the influx of many French priests and monks during the 1830s there came also a tradition of virulent medieval anti Semitism which expressed itself in dark tales of secret Jewish rituals which required human blood for the celebration of Passover rites.
Rumours began to spread through Damascus that Father Thomas had been murdered for such a reason. Within days an all enveloping frenzy of speculation led to the arrest, torture and subsequent confession of several pillars of the Jewish community with the French consul often at the forefront of the action.
However, when news of this event reached Europe and the USA many leading Jews used their contacts to publicise the plight of their co-religionists and strong diplomatic pressure from Britain, Austria and the United States persuaded the Sultan in Constantinople to order not only the release of the prisoners and a recognition of their innocence but also to issue an edict condemning the very nature of the blood libel frenzy
“…and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth…”.
For a while the Sultan’s words dampened the flames but during the rest of the century there were sporadic blood libel eruptions often fostered by newspapers and pamphleteers throughout the middle east. Now, even in modern times, in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, taking an anti Israeli slant, the ferment is still bubbling away.
Thompson is obviously taking Palin to task because, he claims, the term can only refer to a specifically Jewish context.
Is he right?
Not according to Jim Geraghty at NRO who has dug up several examples of “blood libel” being used in the context of exploiting an incident involving death or the danger of death for political gain by making accusations against individuals or groups without any factual evidence – interestingly most of these come from the political left.
Even more tellingly Alan Dershowitz, a leading American jurist, a Jew and politically no friend of Sarah Palin would know exactly where to file Thompson’s pontification – straight into the bin…
The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People,its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. 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. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term.
It would seem clear that Palin’s use of the blood libel phrase in a wider sense outside a specifically Jewish context is nothing new in terms of political debate. But there could have been something much more significant in her mind when she chose to use that phrase. She might well have glanced through a widely praised book on the 1840 incident written by Professor Jonathan Frankel. Daniel Pipes, in his review of the book, thought it was a well written account of what had happened. However he believed Frankel’s main achievement was not so much the telling of the story but his analysis of it’s impact upon world Jewry
But the real impact of the Damascus affair, Frankel shows, lay in Europe, where it led to a formidable backlash against Jews, the greatest in years. Jews found themselves completely unprepared for the tribulations they suffered but learned from this tragedy to organize and lobby, and from that came the first stirrings of modern Jewish solidarity, the basis of the formidable institutions that followed.
Perhaps Palin is also giving a message to conservatives on how to deal with a permanently hostile media which never hesitates to use lies and gross insults to demonise and break anything it perceives as a threat to it’s monopoly and privileges – but maybe that is far to subtle for Mr Thompson to grasp….indeed I doubt he even bothered to listen to the whole speech. Someone probably mentioned the blood libel phrase while he was checking his six figure salary and he decided to be terribly, terribly clever….
Exit question – might it not be time for Damian Thompson to arrange an appointment with his therapist?
cross posted at The Aged P