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Sarah Palin's effort to defuse controversy backfires with 'blood libel' comment

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) releases a statement Wednesday morning denouncing efforts to blame her for Saturday's Tucson shooting rampage.

"Her blessing is also her problem: When the spotlight comes easily, you don't get to make unforced errors," said Noam Neusner, who was a speechwriter and Jewish community outreach adviser to former president George W. Bush.

Palin drew swift, fierce condemnation from liberals and some Jewish groups.

"A particularly heinous term," said David A. Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council. It had additional resonance because the apparent target of the Tucson attacks was a Jewish congresswoman.

But the defense of her was also vehement, and from some unexpected sources.

Liberal Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz told the blog that blood libel has taken on "broad metaphorical meaning" and said there was "nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations."

Although Palin has often been at the center of political storms over the two-and-a-half years since she emerged on the national scene, her allies say the onslaught she has faced since the Tucson shootings has shaken her like none before.

Palin officials confirmed a report by ABC News that Palin has received an unprecedented number of death threats since Saturday's shootings and has been in conversations with security officials about the matter. They declined to provide further details.

Much of the criticism has centered on a map that Palin put on her Web site during the 2010 elections, which used cross-hair symbols to depict the districts of 20 congressional Democrats she had targeted for defeat. One of those was a Tucson shooting victim, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), who had said at the time that Palin's map was an invitation to violence.

However, as more facts emerged about the shooting suspect, Jared Loughner, it grew increasingly apparent that the demons that drove him had little, if any, connection to partisan politics.

On the video, Palin appeared more subdued than usual - drawn and older-looking, her eyes noticeably red.

"I've spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance," she said.

The tragedy in Tucson occurred as the former governor was diving into domestic and foreign policy issues in an effort to build a more substantive political identity. The strategy, in which Palin intends to step up her involvement in public policy debates and embark on overseas trips to nations such as Israel, is in its early stages.

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