Giffords announces resignation from Congress

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot by a gunman in January, announced that she will resign from Congress.

In a two-minute video released Sunday, Giffords (D-Ariz.) said she will step down as she continues her recovery.

“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” she said. “I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

Speaking slowly but clearly, Giffords thanked viewers for their prayers and said that she will always remember the trust her constitutents placed in her.

Giffords, who is Jewish and has been a mamber of a local synagogue, was shot in the head at a Jan. 8, 2011 meet-the-constituents event outside a supermarket in Tucson. The gunman, Jared Loughner, who suffers from mental illness, killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.

In the video, Giffords said she didn’t “remember much from that horrible day.”

Gabby Giffords makes first public appearance

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) made her first public appearance since being wounded in a tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona earlier this year in which numerous victims were hurt or had their lives taken, ABC News reports.

According to the outlet, Giffords attended a ceremony at Space Center Houston in Texas at which her husband astronaut Mark Kelly—who recently announced his retirement from NASA, effective October 1—was awarded the Spaceflight Medal, which is given to shuttle members upon safely returning home from their missions.


Palin defends ‘blood libel’ accusation, says she understands its meaning

In her first interview since the Arizona shooting, Sarah Palin defended her use of the term “blood libel” and said she understands its meaning.

“Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands, and in this case that’s exactly what was going on,” Palin told Sean Hannity in an interview Monday on Fox. Palin is a Fox guest contributor.

Historically the term refers to accusations that began in the Middle Ages that Jews used the blood of murdered Christian children to make matzah for Passover. But in recent days, Palin’s defenders, including some prominent Jewish figures, say the term is also used more generally now along the lines described by the former vice presidential candidate.

In a video statement released last week, Palin defended herself against criticism in the mainstream media that a map on her website that used images of gun crosshairs to indicate districts targeted in last year’s midterm elections helped lead to the violence. The district of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot and critically injured in the Jan. 8 shooting attack, was one of the marked districts.

“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,” Palin said in the video statement.

Palin, who would not discuss her future political aspirations, but is thought to be a potential 2012 presidential candidate, pointed out to Hannity that The Wall Street Journal had used the term in a headline just days earlier. She said she does not believe her use of the term makes her politically “toxic.”

Palin offered her condolences to the victims of the shooting and their families, quoting from the book of Jeremiah.   

The map was removed from her website by the paid graphic designer following the shooting, which Palin said she believed was appropriate. She also said the use of crosshairs on a political map was not an original idea. 

Giffords’ condition was upgraded from critical to serious on Monday. She is no longer on a respirator and a feeding tube has been put in its place.

Jewish groups join faith call for civility

Jewish faith leaders joined a call for soul searching in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric,” said the open letter to Congress signed by 50 Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders appearing Thursday in Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Congress. “We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.”

Giffords (D-Ariz.), who is Jewish, remains critically injured after a gunman shot her at a Tucson shopping center, killing six and injuring 13.

The alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, is not attached to any recognizable political movement, but the fraught rhetoric during Giffords most recent campaign has led to calls for increased civility.

Jewish organizational leaders signing on to the statement represent the Reform movement, the Orthodox Union, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs umbrella group, the National Council for Jewish Women and Jewish Funds for Justice.

The letter, organized by the advocacy group Faith in Public Life, came after President Obama addressed the aftermath of the massacre in a Tucson speech and also called for greater civility.

“Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together,” Obama said.

B’nai B’rith International endorsed Obama’s call.

“Of course in our democracy, it is important that different opinions can be expressed freely and without fear,” B’nai B’rith said in a statement. “But that can be done in an atmosphere free of hostility and, as the president said, pettiness and finger pointing.”

Separately, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona said in a statement that in the wake of the killings, “we intend to redouble our efforts to encourage civil discourse by our community leaders and all those active in community life.”

Obama reported in his speech that she opened her eyes for the first time during a visit Wednesday by some of her closest women friends in Congress, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

ADL: Giffords wasn’t shot because of her Judaism

An analysis of Internet musings by Jared Lee Loughner dismisses speculation that he may have targeted U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords because she is Jewish.

“In the end, the writings so far revealed seem to indicate no particular leanings about race, and it is difficult to come away from the postings with such a conclusion,” according to the analysis published Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL analysis also said that the writings do not “point to a particular ideology or belief system.”

Loughner’s “semi-coherent” writings “are indicative of an individual who has been exposed to a number of different ideas, from across the political spectrum, and has sometimes appropriated external concepts—often seemingly divorced from their original context,” the analysis said.

Loughner, 22, waived bail Monday when he appeared in a federal courtroom to face two federal charges of murder and three charges of attempted murder. He is expected to face additional state murder charges.

Also Monday, President Obama spoke with Giffords’ rabbi during a series of calls to friends and families of victims of the Jan. 8 shooting at a shopping mall in Tucson.

A White House official said Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Tucson’s Congregation Chaverim was among the Tucson-area officials, victims and families Obama reached in the wake of the attack that left Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, critically injured and six dead.

Giffords turned to Aaron after a visit to Israel in 2001 ignited an interest in her Judaism, and the two were close. Aaron performed the ceremony when Giffords married Cmdr. Mark Kelly, an astronaut, in 2007.

Giffords known for her openness and Judaism

The event was typical Gabrielle Giffords: no barriers, all comers—Democrats, Republicans, independents welcome to talk about what was on their minds and in their hearts.

While she was deep in a conversation with an older couple about health care—the issue for which she was willing to risk her career—a gunman strode up to the Arizona congresswoman and shot her point blank in the head.

The critical wounding Jan. 8 of Giffords and the slaughter of six people standing near her—including a federal judge, her chief of community outreach and a 9-year-old girl interested in politics—brought to a screeching halt the easy, open ambience that typified Giffords’ politics, friends and associates said.

“She’s a warm person,” Stuart Mellan, the president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, said as he walked away from a prayer service Saturday night at Temple Emanuel in Tucson, one of the southeastern Arizona cities that Giffords represents in Congress. “Everyone called her Gabby, and she would give a hug and remember your name.”

Giffords was the president of the tire company founded by her father when she was propelled into state politics in part because of her concerns about the availability of health care. She switched her registration from Republican to Democrat and in 2001, at 30, she was elected to the Arizona Legislature.

She gained prominence quickly in that body and in 2006, at 36, she became the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from her state.

At the same time, her Judaism was becoming more central to her identity. The turning point came in 2001 following a tour of Israel with the American Jewish Committee, she told The Arizona Star in 2007.

“It just cemented the fact that I wanted to spend more time with my own personal, spiritual growth. I felt very committed to Judaism,” she said. “Religion means different things to different people. It provides me with grounding, a better understanding of who I came from.”

Her wedding to Cmdr. Mark Kelly, an astronaut, was written up in The New York Times. The item noted that a mariachi band played Jewish music and two canopies—a chupah and one of swords held up by Kelly’s Navy buddies.

“That was Gabby,” Jonathan Rothschild, a longtime friend who served on her campaign’s executive committee, recalled to JTA. “The real irony of this thing is her Judaism is central to her, but she is the kind of person who reaches out to everybody.”

Giffords’ father is Jewish and her mother is a Christian Scientist, and she was raised in both faiths. Her grandfather, Akiba Hornstein, changed his name to Gifford Giffords after moving from New York to Arizona, in part because he did not want his Jewishness to be an issue in unfamiliar territory.

The women on her father’s side of the family seemed to guide her toward identifying with Judaism.

“In my family, if you want to get something done you take it to the Jewish women relatives,” she told JTA in 2006. “Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.”

Giffords, who last week took the oath of office for her third term in Congress, has pushed Jewish and pro-Israel issues to the forefront at the state and federal levels. She initiated an Arizona law facilitating Holocaust-era insurance claims for survivors, and in Congress she led an effort to keep Iran from obtaining parts for combat aircraft.

She didn’t stint in seeking Jewish and pro-Israel funding. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), the premier pro-Israel lawmaker in Congress, fundraised for her, as did Steve Rabinowitz, the Washington public relations maven whose shop represents a slate of Jewish groups.

“She was so heimishe, so down to earth,” Rabinowitz, himself from Tucson, recalled of his fundraiser last spring.

Almost as soon as she was elected to the state Legislature, Giffords was enmeshed in Arizona’s signature issue—rights for undocumented immigrants—according to Josh Protas, who directed the Tucson-area Jewish Community Relations Council for years before moving to Washington in 2009 to direct the D.C. office of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Protas recalled meeting with Giffords as part of the area faith coalition promoting immigrant rights.

“We met with her around immigration issues and she was sensitive to the faith community’s concerns,” he said.

Her approach to the issue was typical for the moderate Democrat, Protas said: She attempted to synthesize what she regarded as the valid viewpoints of both sides on the divisive issue.

“Understanding the complexities of the immigration situation was something important to her,” he said. It came from “a sense of the Jewish value around how we treat the stranger, a history of the Jewish community—but she had recognition of the strong need for security.”

It was a posture that led Giffords to hit both the state and federal governments last year: She blasted the Obama administration for not doing enough to secure the border, but also slammed as repressive a new Arizona law that allowed police to arrest undocumented immigrants during routine stops.

“She was very moderate in her views and willing to meet with folks on all sides,” Protas said. “She took a lot of heat particularly the last couple of years from both the far right and the far left.”

In the end, her greatest vulnerability might have been her openness.

The day Jim Kolbe said he was not seeking re-election to Congress, Giffords told Rothschild that she would run for the seat. Kolbe had one bit of advice for her: Come back every weekend to meet constituents. Not mixing it up with the locals had led to the defeat of Kolbe’s Democratic predecessor.

He didn’t need to convince her; she was back virtually every weekend.

And her open, engaging approach appeared to pay off.

Despite representing a swing district, she survived the Republican wave in November. And just three days before the shooting she was back in Washington—with one hand up and one hand on the Jewish Bible, grinning at her swearing-in at the Capitol.

On Saturday she was back in Tucson, at a parking lot smiling at all comers.