What is a “blood libel”

A libel is a false statement about someone that is written down. The term “blood libel” is most specifically a libel about Jews that asserts they use the blood of a child in a religious ceremony. Jonah Goldberg thinks it is being misused.

I should have said this a few days ago, when my friend Glenn Reynolds introduced the term to this debate. But I think that the use of this particular term in this context isn’t ideal. Historically, the term is almost invariably used to describe anti-Semitic myths about how Jews use blood — usually from children — in their rituals. I agree entirely with Glenn’s, and now Palin’s, larger point. But I’m not sure either of them intended to redefine the phrase, or that they should have.

The comments to his opinion in the National Review provide some qualifications about how the term is being used in modern rhetoric. See Answers.com or Wikipedia to learn about the historical use of the term. Anthony Julius also talks on Blood Libels as a class of libel, conspiracy, and economic false accusations.

All versions of anti-Semitism libel Jews. These libels may be grouped under three headings: the blood libel, the conspiracy libel, and the economic libel. The blood libel supposes that Jews entertain homicidal intentions towards non-Jews, and that Jewish law underwrites these intentions; the conspiracy libel supposes that Jews act as one, in pursuit of goals inimical to the interests of non-Jews; the economic libel supposes that Jews, who are self-interested, acquisitive and unproductive by nature, financially exploit non-Jews. The libels share the premise that Jews hate or despise non-Jews. Of the three libels, the blood libel is the master one. … The blood libel meant that local Jews would be blamed if a corpse was found washed up on a riverbank, abandoned in a wood, or hidden on a Jew’s property, or if a child disappeared and was reported missing. This defamatory assumption assisted the authorities by indicating to them the most likely class of suspects.

As an analogy, the term does seem to be appropriate if one substitutes Palin and Tea Party for Jews. It is a libel. It is directed towards an ideological enemy with a religious vigor. It is irrational. It does include the blaming of murder on that hated group. It is incendiary and that may be its point as a matter of underscoring the nature of the accusations as they were about rhetoric as a primary causative factor in a crime. The only crime that this rhetoric seems to have produced throughout history is on the part of those engaging in the rhetoric who came to believe what they were accusing.

UPDATE: From the MSM headlines it appears that Palin labeling the allegations about her spilling blood with the “blood libel” analogy hit a nerve with them. Those headlines are also accompanied by vehement denial, denigration of the analogy, and similar avoidance behavior. Truth does tend to penetrate and dissonance can be ugly if your perceptions do not match reality.

Comments are closed.