In the wake of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, two excellent speeches came out of two very different people. First, despite a backdrop, venue and crowd response which seemed more akin to a political rally (t-shirts at a memorial service?), a visibly uncomfortable Barack Obama–that’s right, a Barack Obama who was uncomfortable with applause!–delivered perhaps the best speech of his career at an unconventional memorial service on Wednesday. (I read the speech and, wondering what the outcry was all about, watched it and found it to be a whole different experience; read rather than watched, Obama’s speech was well done.) A few hours before, Sarah Palin delivered an excellent statement on the Tucson shootings and the mainstream media’s insistence upon pinning the massacre on her, her rhetoric, and the rhetoric of the right as a whole. Both hit the mark were right on target appropriate for the person delivering the speech, and for the circumstances that person found him and herself in.
The left predictably started spewing venom about a speech about how they spew venom, saying that Palin injected herself into the story (as if she wanted anything to do with it) and taking up the meme that Palin’s “blood libel” statement–echoed earlier by Glenn Reynolds in a great Wall Street Journal piece–was inconsiderate and unfair to Jews. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, however, refuted that notion. Check out the following excerpt, and please use the link above to read the entire piece.
The term connotes the earliest accusations that Jews killed Jesus and enthusiastically embraced responsibility for his murder, telling Pontius Pilate, “His blood be upon us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). Thus was born the legend of Jewish bloodlust and of Hebrew ritual use of Christian blood for sacramental purposes. The term was later used more specifically to describe accusations against Jews—primarily in Europe—of sacrificing kidnapped Christian children to use their blood in the baking of Passover matzos.
Despite the strong association of the term with collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. The expression may be used whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder.
The abominable element of the blood libel is not that it was used to accuse Jews, but that it was used to accuse innocent Jews—their innocence, rather than their Jewishness, being the operative point. Had the Jews been guilty of any of these heinous acts, the charge would not have been a libel.
Jews did not kill Jesus. As the Roman historian Tacitus makes clear, he was murdered by Pontius Pilate, whose reign of terror in ancient Judea was so excessive, even by Roman standards, that (according to the Roman-Jewish chronicler Josephus) Rome recalled him in the year 36 due to his sadistic practices. King Herod Agrippa I, writing to the Emperor Caligula, noted Pilate’s “acts of violence, plunderings . . . and continual murder of persons untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending, endless, and unbelievable cruelties, gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.”
Murder is humanity’s most severe sin, and it is trivialized when an innocent party is accused of the crime—especially when that party is a collective too numerous to be defended individually. If Jews have learned anything in their long history, it is that a false indictment of murder against any group threatens every group. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Indeed, the belief that the concept of blood libel applies only to Jews is itself a form of reverse discrimination that should be dismissed.