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HD: Blood Libel
Posted: 23 January 2011 02:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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Is it written somewhere that the term can only be used in a context regarding antisemitic accusations?

No, of course it isn’t. Surely we’ve gone over all this.

Nevertheless, whether you like it or not, the expression “blood libel” is associated in many minds with the “Jews-make-matza-with-Christian-children’s-blood” story. The expression “blood libel” is useful to politicians, because when they accuse their opponents of it, they are equating their opponents with the original proponents of this infamous libel, whether the facts are relevant or not.
I believe that when a politician (any politician, Jew or not) uses the term out of context, he is most likely to be doing so knowingly, to smear his opponent. But then I have a low opinion of politicians as a class (and I think history is on my side).

To mention politics and the English language in the same breath, using the same adjectives for both, is to be overly generous to one, and cruelly unkind to the other ;-).

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Posted: 23 January 2011 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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First, recall that in the days after the shooting when Palin made the statement, before we knew anything about the motivations of the shooting, the idea that the shooting may have been motivated by antisemitism was very much alive. Not only is Giffords Jewish, but her storefront office had been vandalized in recent weeks, with the glass door shattered. Breaking glass in Jewish storefronts conjures up many unpleasant associations. We now know that antisemitism was not at the heart of this case, but Palin made her comments at a time when people were thinking it.

Blood libel is almost always used to refer to a false accusation that a Jew has killed a Christian or Muslim—including the Sharon case. Palin, aware of the term’s history or not, flipped it and used it in reference to her being accused of being responsible for the shooting of a Jewish representative. It’s equivalent to a white American talking about being “enslaved” by African-Americans; it’s insensitive to centuries of bigotry and oppression.

The Brooklyn rabbi case is intra-Jewish use of the term in a context that dealt with actual blood—the slaughter of animals in accordance with kosher dietary laws. The use is intentionally ironic, if not downright in jest.

There are lots of terms Palin could have used that wouldn’t have raised any ethnic hackles; plain old “libel” or “slander” would have worked (although they carry legal implications that Palin might not have wanted to introduce), as would “lie;” there’s also “canard” and “calumny,” although those last two might have had many of her supporters scratching their heads.

[Edited to remove some political comments of my own and make the post more objective.]

[ Edited: 23 January 2011 05:06 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 23 January 2011 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Does blood libel succinctly express the concept she wanted to get across?

No.

Does she use it in the same sense others have?

A few others.  That’s like claiming a misspelling is correct because you googled it and found some other people had used it.

Your other questions are pointless in this context.

Politics and the English language are robust, active, sometimes brutal pursuits. I say get used to it.

I say you need to think a little more carefully and be a little less cavalier about your advice, especially if you’re not Jewish.  It’s always easy for someone whose ox is not being gored to tell someone whose ox is being gored to “get used to it.”

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Posted: 23 January 2011 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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I’d say the central issue is whether or not the metaphor can make the transition to popular discourse. Clearly it won’t with the kinds of reactions it has received. I understand the sensitivity/insensitivity argument. But when the vast majority of Americans have never heard the phrase before or think, as Dr. Techie suggests, that it relates to other common phrases, the “literal” meaning seems to fade into the very distant past. How many other culturally or religiously sensitive terms have become commonplace? The alternatives Dave suggests are pretty weak by comparison.

It’s always easy for someone whose ox is not being gored to tell someone whose ox is being gored to “get used to it.”

No one’s ox is being gored in this country. No one has formally been accused of killing any children to make any kind of food. As to informal accusations ... whispered rumours behind closed doors ... well, is that the basis for how we run our politics? What about those crackpot accusations in other countries? Same answer. (See the wikipedia article, Blood Libel, for recent cases.)

The Brooklyn rabbi case is intra-Jewish use of the term in a context that dealt with actual blood—the slaughter of animals in accordance with kosher dietary laws. The use is intentionally ironic, if not downright in jest.

Indeed. The usage in irony or jest is perfectly OK. Or if it’s offensive it shouldn’t be used at all in public. There’s all kinds of language I’d prefer people not use publicly.

I believe that when a politician (any politician, Jew or not) uses the term out of context, he is most likely to be doing so knowingly, to smear his opponent. But then I have a low opinion of politicians as a class (and I think history is on my side).

Agreed.

To mention politics and the English language in the same breath, using the same adjectives for both, is to be overly generous to one, and cruelly unkind to the other

Gosh, now I wish I hadn’t said that. It sounded so profound at the time. I’ve got to learn to be more suspicious of my own grand, sweeping statements. ;-)

[ Edited: 23 January 2011 09:45 AM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 23 January 2011 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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Indeed. The usage in irony or jest is perfectly OK. Or if it’s offensive it shouldn’t be used at all in public.

Members of an ethnic group can often use terms that others cannot without offense. Blacks can use nigger in contexts where use by a white person would be an insult of the highest order.

And appropriating a term that has historically been tied to pogroms against and murders of members of another ethnic group is incredibly insensitive. It doesn’t matter that literal blood libels have not been perpetrated against Jews in this country in recent years; the fact that they have existed in the past is enough to give the term power and lead to offense if the term is misused.

The alternatives Dave suggests are pretty weak by comparison.

I don’t think so. In fact, I think the opposite is the case. Blood libel is hyperbolic and inflammatory, even without the Jewish implications. In the wake of a shooting of a politician, leaders should be ratcheting down the rhetoric, not coming out with even more inflammatory speech. There is power in calmly using precise words that literally and without emotion provide exact descriptions. There is nothing weak or simpering about libel or calumny. They are precise and apt without being excessively inflammatory.

But when the vast majority of Americans have never heard the phrase before or think, as Dr. Techie suggests, that it relates to other common phrases, the “literal” meaning seems to fade into the very distant past.

But Palin is not among the “vast majority of Americans.” She is a political leader. We should hold her to a higher standard and expect her to know the implications of terms like this and use them aptly and with the proper sense of decorum. If she were some random Jane commenting on a blog post, there would be no fuss. But many expect her to run for president, and she should conduct herself accordingly.

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Posted: 23 January 2011 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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But when the vast majority of Americans have never heard the phrase before or think, as Dr. Techie suggests, that it relates to other common phrases, the “literal” meaning seems to fade into the very distant past.

I did not say anything about what the “vast majority” of Americans think.  The phrase obviously does “relate” to other common phrases but that doesn’t mean it equates to them.  I did say that her use was “logically defensible” for one who was ignorant of the phrase’s history.

I agree with Dave that for Palin to compare the criticism of her campaign rhetoric that followed the Tucson shooting to the historical blood libel against the Jews was hyperbolic and inflammatory.  What I’m unsure of is whether she is so ignorant of history that she didn’t recognize the implications of the phrase, or so self-aggrandizing and narcissistic that she thought the comparison an apt one. Either seems possible.

Edit: and either is disturbing in a person whom a major political party deemed qualified to be vice-president of the US, and who still appears to have presidential ambitions. I think the media attention to her use of the phrase is appropriate, given who she is. (Not wanting to mantle Dave here, but making my point differently enough that I feel I would be putting words in his mouth if I wrote “As Dave says...").

[ Edited: 23 January 2011 04:43 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 23 January 2011 09:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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Hmmm… Cogent and thoughtful points, one and all. I’ll admit to being slightly won over and of two minds on this, in part because I’ve had a day to think about it. On the one hand, if you accept as a given that Palin was actively being implicated and accused, then objectively her usage is not hyperbolic. She’s a public figure. To pin responsibility on her would be a career destroyer and I have little or no doubt that that was the motivation, to the extent that the accusation was made. Under this rubric, she was effectively being accused of murder; the punishment was to be banishment from public life. On the other hand, I agree with Dave that her use of the phrase is inflammatory and I particularly agree with his statement:

In the wake of a shooting of a politician, leaders should be ratcheting down the rhetoric, not coming out with even more inflammatory speech. There is power in calmly using precise words that literally and without emotion provide exact descriptions. There is nothing weak or simpering about libel or calumny. They are precise and apt without being excessively inflammatory.

So in that sense it was also hyperbolic. Calm and decorum speak more loudly than hyperbole. And, again, having had time to think about it, if groups of people genuinely find the use of the term painful then it is inexcusable to bring up in public discourse. It is primarily on the basis of Lionello’s statements and languagehat’s convincing exposure of prejudices alive and well in America today that I can believe at all that these ancient calumnies still have some force. I’m sorry if it’s insensitive, but I heard about the “blood libel” a long time ago and dimissed it as too ludicrous for words.* It seems a little more plausible now having seen the evidence.

Anyway, one thing I can say quite definitively is, never try to co-opt one of Dr. Techie’s statements for your own argument. You won’t get away with it.

*Too ludicrous to believe it actually took place.

[ Edited: 23 January 2011 10:16 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 24 January 2011 03:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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My next comment is a bit off topic and probably violates my own rules about political statements, but it’s my website…

On the one hand, if you accept as a given that Palin was actively being implicated and accused, then objectively her usage is not hyperbolic. She’s a public figure. To pin responsibility on her would be a career destroyer and I have little or no doubt that that was the motivation, to the extent that the accusation was made.

As someone else (I don’t know who originally) has pointed out, if a Muslim had posted a map on the internet that had politicians designated with gun sights, and one of those politicians ended up being shot, do you think the FBI would let that Muslim continue to walk the streets? Why should it be different for Palin because she is white and Christian?

It turns out that Palin’s rhetoric had nothing to do with the Tucson shooting. The shooter was evidently not motivated by what Palin said or did. (Although, I’m not prepared to say that the general use of violent rhetoric by the right did not contribute to Loughner’s idea that picking up a gun and using it was a valid course of action. Yes, he is mentally disturbed, but people like him don’t operate in a vacuum. They get their ideas from somewhere. The danger has never been that a stable, healthy individual will take violent action, but that a mentally disturbed person would be inspired by the rhetoric to do so.) But the fact that her rhetoric was not a proximate cause does not excuse Palin’s rhetoric, and it was natural to think in the hours and days after the shooting to think that she might have been Loughner’s inspiration. Her rhetoric, and that of the Tea Party, is over the top and has no place in the political discourse of a democratic nation. Politicians who use such rhetoric should and must be held to account for what they say. I shed no tears for any political misfortune Palin may have suffered for this. She got off easy.

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Posted: 24 January 2011 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Dave Wilton - 24 January 2011 03:31 AM

posted a map on the internet that had politicians designated with gun sights

I agreee that it’s off-topic, but that’s a mischaracterization of the now-famous map.  There were no “politicians” on the map, only outlines of states.  Arizona had three crosshair graphics on it, representing the three congressional districts that were targeted.  The verb “to target” is widely used in politics and in other areas of life, and it’s not meant to be taken literally.  Now, if you want to get into the caption that accompanied S.P.’s map ("Don’t retreat; Re-load") that would be a different matter, but the fact remains that the congressional districts, not people, were targeted.

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Posted: 24 January 2011 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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jtab4994 - 24 January 2011 06:33 AM

Dave Wilton - 24 January 2011 03:31 AM

posted a map on the internet that had politicians designated with gun sights

I agreee that it’s off-topic, but that’s a mischaracterization of the now-famous map.  There were no “politicians” on the map, only outlines of states.  Arizona had three crosshair graphics on it, representing the three congressional districts that were targeted.  The verb “to target” is widely used in politics and in other areas of life, and it’s not meant to be taken literally.  Now, if you want to get into the caption that accompanied S.P.’s map ("Don’t retreat; Re-load") that would be a different matter, but the fact remains that the congressional districts, not people, were targeted.

Continuing in this not-quite-on-topic vein, if a map “targets” congressional districts, it is published during an election campaign, and the point of focusing (targeting?) attention on a district is to oust, defeat, vanquish, crush, rout and trample an incumbent you don’t care for… Is it really much of a stretch, if any, to associate the target zones on the map with the candidates who represent the targeted districts?  Of course one may choose to split hairs, and point out that the map didn’t show candidates’ faces, but SP and many TP companions are not usually accused of such linguistic subtleties.

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Posted: 24 January 2011 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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cuchuflete - 24 January 2011 10:33 AM

SP and many TP companions are not usually accused of such linguistic subtleties.

I hear you.  Sometimes I wish there was some sort of literacy test for these down-market voters.

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Posted: 27 January 2011 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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It is primarily on the basis of Lionello’s statements and languagehat’s convincing exposure of prejudices alive and well in America today that I can believe at all that these ancient calumnies still have some force. I’m sorry if it’s insensitive, but I heard about the “blood libel” a long time ago and dimissed it as too ludicrous for words.* It seems a little more plausible now having seen the evidence.

*Too ludicrous to believe it actually took place.

Sadly, they are live and kicking in Spain. A year or so ago I was in Zaragoza where one of the must-sees is the Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site - a Mudejar mosque enclosed by a Romanesque cathedral, embellished by a series of Baroque chapels. At one of these chapels, dedicated to the child “martyr” San Dominguito de Val, I was aghast to read the smart new multilingual UNESCO-funded signage which tells the story as a sober literal fact (I read it several times hoping to find any qualification, if only an “it is said”, “according to legend” or “allegedly" - there was none) but further stated that he is still considered the patron of Zaragozan choirboys, acolytes and schoolchildren in general, who take part in an annual celebration on his feast day.

I did a bit of digging around and found that Zaragoza is not unique and neither is San Dominguito de Val. Spain has other blood-libel “saints”, such as the Holy Child of La Guardia, who are the objects of widespread popular devotion in Spain even though the Vatican has quietly dropped them. Evidently thousands of Spaniards either genuinely believe that their stories are true, or they think that, even if they didn’t actually literally happen, they are such beautiful and uplifting stories they deserve to be venerated, and told to impressionable children. I really don’t know which possibility is more depressing.

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