The use of the term 'blood libel' drew immediate condemnation from a host of Jewish groups, including pro-Israel lobby J Street, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Jewish Democratic Council, and Jewish Funds for Justice. Blood libel refers to a common slander from the Middle Ages in which religious minorities, and in the European context almost exclusively Jews, were accused of kidnapping and killing Christian children to extract their blood for ritual purposes. Accusations of blood libel were often used to justify anti-Jewish violence and oppression. A timeline of the term's use, provided by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, can be found here.
From a statement released today by David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council:
Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a "blood libel" against her and others. This is of course a particularly heinous term for American Jews, given that the repeated fiction of blood libels are directly responsible for the murder of so many Jews across centuries -- and given that blood libels are so directly intertwined with deeply ingrained anti-Semitism around the globe, even today.In addition Palin's completely inappropriate choice of words, which Harris rightly points out can be attributed at best to her ignorance of their historical meaning, I would be fascinated to know precisely what part of a self-proclaimed premeditated assassination attempt on a sitting Congresswoman strikes Palin as 'apolitical.'
Perhaps Sarah Palin honestly does not know what a blood libel is, or does not know of their horrific history; that is perhaps the most charitable explanation we can arrive at in explaining her rhetoric today.