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'Blood libel' has a history in anti-Semitic art

January 12, 2011 | 12:28 pm

Palin AP Photo Facebook

Sarah Palin is receiving sharp criticism for her invocation of "blood libel" in a video posted today on her Facebook page in defense of accusations against her in relation to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson. Blood libel is a false claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in religious rituals.

Giffords is Jewish, and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was among those killed in the attack.

Variations of blood libel also have a history of depictions in art, usually traced to the Middle Ages and the Christian Crusades. Probably the best known is a slightly later predella panel (or altar base) painted in 1468 by Renaissance master Paolo Uccello for a church in Urbino, Italy.

Three scenes in "The Miracle of the Host" recount an anti-Semitic legend. An impoverished woman is forced by a Jewish pawnbroker to trade her cloak for a consecrated wafer, which he then roasts on a trivet in a fireplace for her to eat. Copious blood streams from the Host, which signifies the body of Christ, alerting local police. They knock down the door, burn the pawnbroker and his family at the stake for their crime and hang the woman. The salvaged Host is returned to the altar by the pope himself.

Uccello's predella was meant to support an altarpiece he never painted. The church withdrew the commission when the artist messed up the perspective in the predella's depiction of a patterned floor. Today the notorious panel hangs in the National Gallery of Marche, housed in Urbino's ducal palace.

-- Christopher Knight


Photo: Sarah Palin's Facebook page; Credit: AP/Facebook

Comments () | Archives (17)

I'm not sure what would be worse, that she would intentionally invoke this loaded term or that she's that historically clueless?

What I find interesting is I'd never even _heard_ of this term until today.

Kind of makes you wonder, eh?

That lady is an idiot.

Well what was everyone thinking? That she'd apologize or show some form of sensitivity? Mark my words, if her and her cadre of like-minded politicos ever run this country, the Jews, Catholics, African descendants, Latinos, Gays, Asians and every other perceived "fringe" group, including "liberals" better run or be very prepared to fight to the death!

I listened to the whole comment by Palin and agree with her. Do not get your panties in a wad.

The term "blood libel" is used when a large group of people is falsely accused of a heinously violent crime. That is exactly how Sarah Palin used it in this case. So, whether one agrees or disagrees with the substance of her statement, in the context of her remarks she used the term correctly.

She is just ignorant, like W was with calling the invasion of Iraq a "crusade". And these are the people we put in office? A democracy is only as strong as its people. And art has failed its role in society, we are incredibly weak. Art is the strength of mind, body and soul. Balance and grace. Responsibility and commitment. In the Age of Meism and reality shows, contempt is king, and revealed bare.

It is time to put aside childish things.
St Paul and some guy named Obama.

"accusations against her in relation to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson."

I honestly hope she sues this rag. Call it blood or not; what you just said IS libel.
She has not been criminally charged with anything.

To @Meet Joe Bloggs

Don't worry you never heard of it before today. It's just another one of those 'elitist' things they keep coming up with. History is for wimps.

"“Blood libel” does not refer exclusively to accusations against Jews. It does not refer only to medieval episodes that resulted in pogroms. It is a term that has been, and continues to be, legitimately used in contemporary American political discourse by all sides. Governor Palin’s use of the term is accurate, reasonable, and squarely within the bounds of accepted political discourse. It is her opponents’ attempts to falsely connect her to the Tucson massacre which is inaccurate, and unreasonable, and beyond the pale of civilized discourse."

Hey "trains", this isn't about your "bounds of accepted political discourse" or however else you want to rationalize and spin your tired defense of Palin. People were KILLED in Tucson. And all Palin can do is insensitively attempt to place blame elsewhere and claim to be the victim? This is precisely why she will NEVER be president.

Judging by most of this "discourse", I guess it's still cool to be cruel and stupid. I'm for going back to the sixties, when the left had something to say, and the world listened.

This was really interesting. Perhaps someone should start an Art & Current Affairs blog that ties in the day's news with art history....oh, and seriously, does anybody know what's wrong with that woman?

The following is what Alan Dershowitz who can't possibly ever be accused of being an anti-Semite or a far-right-winger stated on this subject.
'The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People, its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term.'
In this particular case, if it's fine with Alan Dershowitz, it is definitely fine with me.

She has full permission to be anti-semitic if it keeps her from the White House. Please, insult my people all you want.

How is her statement anti-Semitic?

I was not aware that combining the words 'blood' and 'libel' created a well known term 'blood libel' before this hit the news.

To me it seems unlikely that Palin was unaware of the existence of the phrase-- I think she's actually using it properly: blood libel = false accusations (libel) of murder (blood).

I recognize the point that some have made that her statement is insensitive to Jews-- she's using a phrase 'owned' by the Jewish community-- but others have commented that the meaning of 'blood libel' has evolved and is no longer specific to Judaism. In which case I think her word choice is apt, however venturesome. I'm reminded of the politician who lost his job due to his use of the word 'niggardly'-- to me this was insane and sad. The words themselves are not racist, it's important how they are used. I don't believe Palin was making a veiled acknowledgment to her anti-Semitic supporters. I think she is innocent here.

For the record I also believe her 'crosshairs map' was in bad taste and incredibly irresponsible.

I've never heard "blood Libel" used in any other context then to refer to Jews. It seems shocking to me that Palin did not know what she was saying. The fact the the Washington Times states that liberals are waging a "pogrom" against her is telling. This coded language folks.


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