Massachusetts Suffragan Bishop Apologizes for Airing Libels Against Israel
In July, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris of the denomination’s Massachusetts diocese publicly asserted having seen Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers commit atrocities against Palestinians. Harris claimed that IDF soldiers killed a teenager by shooting him ten times, and handcuffed a 3-year-old boy whose ball fell over the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The allegations were made during debate over a litany of anti-Israel resolutions considered at the Episcopal convention.
On Aug. 17, Harris expressed remorse for her comments, writing: “After reviewing my words in the House of Bishops from a transcription, I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and unintentionally framed them as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events. I sincerely apologize. I now understand how the framing of my words could and did give the wrong impression … I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.”
Tragically for interfaith relations in the U.S. and elsewhere — and for genuine peacemaking in the Middle East — a wildly disproportionate and singularly hostile focus on badmouthing and sometimes even boycotting Israelis, or those deemed to be inappropriately engaged with them, has become commonplace in a number of mainline Protestant and other denominations.
Massachusetts Bishop Alan M. Gates, in affirming Harris’s apology, said, “We recognize that for Christian leaders to relate unsubstantiated accounts of Israeli violence awakens traumatic memory of a deep history of inciting hostility and violence against Jews — a history the echoes of which are heard alarmingly in our own day. We grieve damage done to our relationships with Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, and rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.” His sentiments are appropriate.
Discrimination, stridency and falsehood have no place in a healthy Christian-Jewish relationship and in pursuing a fair, lasting and comprehensive Middle East peace. It is long past due to end the maligning of the world’s only Jewish state and the Middle East’s only democracy, not least in religious institutions entrusted with particular moral authority.