WASHINGTON — Sarah Palin lashed out Wednesday at her critics, saying it was a "blood libel" when some in the media and on the left said she'd contributed to an atmosphere of violence that may have pushed an Arizona gunman into shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
"If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. . . . But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible," she said in a video posted on the internet.
In using the term "blood libel," though, Palin inadvertently created more controversy. The term refers to the false accusation that Jews murdered Christian children for their blood — one historically used to justify the persecution of Jews — and Palin's use of it drew instant criticism from Jewish groups.
"While the term 'blood-libel' has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history," said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Palin, who last March included Giffords' district on a map of Democrats she'd targeted for defeat — and marked by a rifle's crosshairs — noted that she'd decried violence while visiting the state the same month.
"As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, 'We know violence isn't the answer. When we 'take up our arms,' we're talking about our vote,''' Palin said.
"Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box — as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next," she added.
Palin's video statement — made in front of a fireplace with an American flag beside it — came as Republicans are starting to jockey for position for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, and as some prominent Republicans are questioning her star status in the party.
"What man or mouse with a fully functioning human brain and a resume as thin as Palin's would flirt with a presidential run?" former Florida Rep. Joe Scarborough wrote in November.
One potential rival, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, this week lauded her as a "force of nature" and stressed that there's no evidence that the Arizona gunman was influenced by Palin or any political talk. But Pawlenty went on to say that he'd never use the kind of gun imagery or rhetoric that Palin's invoked to oppose Democrats.
"It wouldn't have been my style to put the crosshairs on there, but there's no reason to believe it had anything to do with this mentally unstable person's rage," Pawlenty told ABC News Tuesday. "There's a line there as it relates to basic civility, decency and respect."
A November McClatchy-Marist poll showed her the weakest of three potential rivals against Democratic President Barack Obama — Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee both fared better.
Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota, said the recent brouhaha over her political rhetoric in the aftermath of the shooting could hurt her further with independent and moderate voters, particularly the replay of an interview from last March in which Giffords herself said she feared that Palin's imagery could lead to violence.
"Palin's taken a big hit," Schier said. "I think she's sinking like a stone."
In the wake of last Saturday's shooting rampage that struck down 20 people, killing six and injuring 14, including Giffords, some liberals said the gunman may have been influenced by a culture of anti-government violence fed by comments and imagery connecting guns to political rebellion against the Democratic agenda in Washington.
"Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin," said liberal Daily Kos website founder Markos Moulitsas soon after the shooting. (The Daily Kos quickly removed an earlier Web posting about a Giffords vote against Rep. Nancy Pelosi with the headline: "Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is dead to me now.")
"If she does not repudiate her own part, however tangential, in amplifying violence and violent imagery in American politics, she must be dismissed from politics; she must be repudiated by the members of her own party," MSNBC's Keith Olbermann said about Palin.
In her video, Palin also disputed the observation that political talk has turned nastier in recent years with its frequent reference to guns, bullets and blood.
"They claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those 'calm days' when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?" she said.
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