The former Alaska governor was responding to critics, including some Jewish groups, who argued that it is inappropriate for Palin -- a self-professed observant Christian -- to use language that evokes an especially dark chapter in the history of world Jewry. The "blood libel" refers to the charge hurled at Jews during the Middle Ages that they ritually murdered Christian children and then used their victims' blood as an ingredient in sacred food.
Even sympathetic critics of Palin's politics, such as Abraham Foxman and Jonah Goldberg, said the former governor should not have used the language to describe her situation. They argued that the phrase "blood libel" is too painful to Jews and too specific to their victimization to be appropriated by a Christian.
And here we have arrived at the real reason for the fracas. Fundamentally, the assertion is that Palin's use of the term reflects insensitivity toward Jewish suffering.
But on this point Palin has to be judged as correct, and perhaps more correct than she realizes.
First, the phrase "blood libel" has been used in this broad general way for years. Indeed, it is part of a well-worn script. It is the language you use to rebut the accusation that you have "blood on your hands."
And Palin is certainly correct that her critics had accused her of having "blood on her hands," for her gun-sight map and for her language of using the ballot box as a way to "reload."
Recognizing the broader context of Palin's response allows us to see that her critics are no different than she is. By accusing her of having "blood on her hands," they, too, are drawing on the same dark history that has unfolded between Jews and Christians.
Because now we must ask ourselves where the phrase "blood on your hands" acquired its rhetorical force, and the answer is it derives directly from the scene in the synoptic Gospels where Pilate washes his hands of Christ's blood and the Jews chant, "His blood be on us!" This is the last stop in Christian anti-Semitism -- the charge that the Jews are Christ killers. Yet no one is suggesting that Palin's critics are somehow insensitive to the sorrowful history of the Jews when they proclaim that Sarah and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have "blood on their hands."
And I do not want to be the first one to make that accusation. Rather I want to stress that this issue is simply not in play.
The reality is that phrases such as "blood on your hands" and "blood libel" are broadly evocative, charged terms and we English speakers will make use of them -- regardless of our heritage -- when we want people to sit up and pay attention. Jews do not own these words any more than they own the word "holocaust" (a term that dates back to the 17th century where we first find it in the work of the Christian poet John Milton, who appears to have coined it). What happened in Rwanda, in Somalia, in Bosnia was a holocaust. If hearing such words prods us to act, we use them.
No one is being insensitive to the Jews here. And even if they were, nothing is likely to happen because such insensitivity isn't going to result in the sudden eruption of Christian anti-Semitism in our country.
Perhaps half of the American adult population saw this movie. Was there a spike in Christian anti-Semitism? No.
The fact is that American Christians and American Jews have learned to get along. Our language reminds us that it was not always so. But it is now and that is one thing we should all celebrate.
Matthew Biberman is a professor of English at the University of Louisville, where he teaches British literature from Shakespeare to the Romantics. He is the author of "Masculinity, Anti-Semitism, and Early Modern English Literature" and "Big Sid's Vincati." Read his blog on Red Room.