Monday, January 17, 2011

Alan Dershowitz: Is Sarah Palin the victim of a blood libel?

"No group owns the vocabulary of political discourse"
In a brief statement published by Big Government Wednesday, high-profile liberal Alan Dershowitz defended Gov. Palin's use of the term "blood libel." In a Friday opinion piece for the Jerusalem Post, the Harvard Law professor expands on his previous remarks:
The term blood libel has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins are rooted in theologically based false accusations against the Jewish people and individual Jews, its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe what I believe to be false accusations against the state of Israel by the Goldstone report. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely referenced term.

Nor does the term blood libel stand alone as a theologically rooted term that has taken on metaphorical status. The word crucifixion, central to Christian theology, has long been used politically. William Jennings Bryan famously ran for office on the slogan “Do not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” Similarly, the word crusade, which has darker theological implications, has been used to signify any large scale military or ideological attack. Dwight Eisenhower used that term in the title of his memoir, and some Catholic athletic teams call themselves the Crusaders. (Though I personally disagree with glorifying the horrible crusades against Moslems and Jews, I recognize that the terms have lost its original meaning.) Inquisition, too, has become a generally accepted term describing an unfair investigation or interrogation.


The term blood libel is now used to characterize any false accusation that relates to the killing of human beings. Sarah Palin was accused of being responsible for the death and wounding of multiple human beings. She reasonably believes that accusation to be false in fact and politically inspired. She is entitled, in my view, to use the term blood libel in the context of an accusation of responsibility for bloodletting, without regard to the religion or ethnicity of the perpetrator, the victims, the accusers or the accused.

Language changes over time by usage. Whether Palin was or was not aware of the theological roots of the term she used, she selected a phrase that has become common place. Jews no longer own it, any more than Christians own theological terms rooted in their religion, or Moslems own words like Jihad, which have now assumed metaphorical status.

So let’s stop trying to stifle debate in the name of political correctness and let’s stop pretending to be offended when people we disagree with use words commonly employed, without criticism, by people we agree with. No group owns the vocabulary of political discourse.

h/t: Benyamin Korn

- JP

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