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 had 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.
But in using the term "blood libel," 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. Palin's use of it drew 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.
But Harvard University liberal law professor Alan Dershowitz, commenting on the Big Government online site operated by conservative gadfly Andrew Breitbart, defended Palin's use of the term.
"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," Dershowitz said.
"Palin's comments either show a complete ignorance of history, or blatant anti-Semitism," said Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who, like Giffords, is Jewish.
"Either way, it shows an appalling lack of sensitivity given Representative Giffords' faith and the events of the past week."
Palin, who last March included Giffords' district on a map of Democrats she had targeted for defeat and marked by a rifle's cross hairs, noted that she had 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 Palin as a "force of nature" and stressed there is no evidence that the Arizona gunman was influenced by her or any political talk. But he also said he would never use the kind of gun imagery or rhetoric that Palin has invoked to oppose Democrats.
"It wouldn't have been my style to put the cross hairs 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 on Tuesday. "There's a line there as it relates to basic civility, decency and respect."
A December McClatchy-Marist poll showed Palin to be the weakest of three potential rivals against Democratic President Obama. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee both fared better.
Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota, said the recent brouhaha over Palin's political rhetoric in the aftermath of the shooting could hurt her further with independent and moderate voters, particularly the replay of a March interview 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 Saturday's shooting rampage, 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.
"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.