The Kosher Bookworm: What's so Jewish about blood libels and ghettos


During these past two weeks we have witnessed some of the meanest political rhetoric by the authoritarian left in recent memory. The rhetoric focused upon the use of the phrase “blood libel,” by Sarah Palin as she described the verbal attacks on her after the Arizona shooting.

Aside from the usual political antics exercised by those who should know better, what makes this episode so sad for our community was the unfortunate and morally reprehensible behavior of two high-salaried Jewish organizational functionaries who postured themselves as if they spoke on behalf of the American Jewish community. Rabbi Marvin Hier, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Abraham Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, took Palin to task for using a word that they perceived to be the sole property of the Jews. Utilizing their richly endowed bully pulpit, these two gentlemen took a phrase that has long been devoid of any Jewish context and turned a non-sectarian situation into a Jewish issue — fraught with all the problems that accompany it.

Having earned their partisan take for the day, the two then departed the scene, leaving American Jews to explain to their fellow citizens what the whole hubbub was about.

If my memory serves me right, these two men and their organizations have never questioned the use of the word “ghetto” by American black leaders to describe urban black communities. By what measure of linguistics did Hier and Foxman differentiate between Palin’s use of blood libel and black leaders’ use of ghetto in their partisan critique? There is hardly as single black community anywhere in this country that could be remotely compared to the Frankfort, the Roman, or the Warsaw Ghetto. Yet, a critique of Palin came at breakneck speed as if to curry favor for the Sunday newspapers and talk shows of that sad weekend.

Truth be told, both the term ghetto and blood libel have both lost their original historical Jewish meaning. The use of these two terms has been accepted, except when there is an occasion for the left-wing to engage in party bashing. Then, all rules of civility are suspended in the name of the larger cause.

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