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Dismissed Yale Episcopal chaplain interviewed

Dismissed Yale Episcopal chaplain interviewed

Mark Oppenheimer, in Tablet Magazine, extensively interviews The Rev. Bruce Shipman, the former chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale University, who in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, wrote that “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”

The title of the piece is way over the top, but the interview itself is insightful for numerous reasons.

An excerpt:

Mark Oppenheimer: I have an open-ended question. What happened?

Bruce Shipman: The response astonished me. I mean, it dismayed me. And, I think the first shock, on top of the personal letters that came to me in email and of course, the website of ECY [Episcopal Church at Yale] was easily accessible, and my phone number and email address were both right there for all to use. But to find in the Yale Daily News, on the 28th, just two days after my letter was published in the Times, this very inflammatory guest editorial, which I think is really out of proportion, and that’s an understatement, you know. I don’t think my letter was hateful, I think people read things into it that I did not intend. And I can understand why it did offend some. But the fact that there is such a disconnect between a great many who found nothing offensive in the letter and those who did—that’s an issue that needs to be addressed, I think.

Because most people that I’m similar to say, “What’s the fuss? What’s the fuss? You know, we see this illustrated in the news and we see what’s happening, and it’s pretty obvious that the escalation in anti-Semitic violence had some connection to what’s going on in Israel and Gaza.” That’s pretty obvious. That’s no explanation to the deeper problem of anti-Semitism—that’s another subject. But what I was saying was not plumbing the depths of Semitism in its own right. But rather that there is a correlation between what’s happening in Israel and, um, some resentment against the Jews is manifested in violence. That’s happening. I mean that is happening …

And later…

There were some anti-Zionist websites that enjoyed using your case as, “The Jews drove you out.”

It wasn’t. It was my own board that failed to back me up, for their own reasons. And that was very disappointing.

Not that AIPAC can’t drive people out. I just didn’t see any evidence that they did that to you.

No, no. I wouldn’t, no. As I say there was, I believe within the first couple of days, the chaplain’s office and the president were involved in trying to get me out. I believe that. But you’re quite right that, had the board supported me, and the bishops, as they should have really … But the principle of free speech, and the principle of the integrity of the chaplain’s office—the chaplain needs at times to say things that are unpopular.

If what you’ve said is true, it sounds like they’re trying to controversy-proof the chaplaincy.

Yes. I believe that that is the policy of the administration. I believe that that is Sharon’s understanding of her role, to avoid controversy, and the chaplaincy is essentially pastoral. And to avoid the controversy.


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Murdoch Matthew

If the actions of the Israeli government in the Occupied Territories is Semitism, then, yes, I’m against it.

Addison Bross

I want to address several points in an earlier post here, but first:

If any meaningful dialogue is to take place about the Rev. Shipman’s letter, everyone must carefully distinguish between these two actions:

(1) observing that Netanyahu’s extremely murderous policies correlate with anti-Semitic violence in Europe (which Rev. Shipman did) and

(2) claiming that the former grants MORAL JUSTIFICATION for the latter (which Rev. Shipman did not do).

It seems to me hasty and unreasonable to claim or to imply (as many have implied in discussions of Rev. Shipman’s letter) that the extremely harsh, collective punishment wreaked upon Gaza by the IDF under the Prime Minister’s orders have no causal connection with irrational, violent, unjust acts against Jewish people and Jewish facilities in Europe.

My response to the earlier post follows:

“I have a strong bias when it comes to any Christian clergy offering opinions of the Jewish community’s (including Israel) decisions of self survivor.”

> Honest confession of bias is good, but not enough if we want a helpful discussion. A confessed bias still acts to distort thinking, blocking the search for truth and justice, unless it is laid aside. A report, an argument, or another kind of statement should be judged by its merits, not by its source (whether that source is Christian clergy, Jewish groups, Marxist atheists, etc, etc.) The observations of the Rev. Shipman should not be dismissed simply because he is a Christian cleric, just as comments by Jewish rabbis should not be dismissed on the basis of their origin.

> The position offered in this post (rejecting the opinions of Christian clergy because they are Christian clergy) would preclude any criticism from that quarter of the war-policies of the state of Israel — policies which Israel claims to be pursuing only in self-defense (a challengable claim). But it’s possible that these members of the clergy may have honest, cogent, useful observations to offer. As US taxpayers, they are supporting US arms sent to Israel. Weapons are currently exported to Israel from the US in violation of the US Arms Export Act of 1976, which requires that our exported weapons must not be used in violation of human rights; Israel has long used these arms to violate such rights. Any US citizen, then, has the right to have her/his critique of Israeli and US policy heard — and judged on its merits. See “Christian Leaders call for end to unconditional US military aid.” (Kairos ~

> I don’t believe that the policies of any nation (even those labeled as “self-defense” should be immune to criticism from any quarter whatsoever. It is possible for even the enemies of a given nation to voice sound and rational critiques of the policies of its adversary. In the 1960s, Viet Cong leaders’ critiques of indiscriminate bombing by the US (a war crime) were well-founded critiques, even though the Viet Cong were at war with the US. The fact that I am a Christian should not disqualify me from examining critically what is presented as defensive military action by the state of Israel, even though that state is composed largely of Jews. This is true, unless one holds to the principle that Jewish people never commit morally questionable actions.

The innocuous questions raised by the Rev. Shipman in his letter, though he is indeed a Christian and a member of the Christian clergy, should not be dismissed simply because he is a Christian cleric.

” [E]ven he [the Rev. Shipman] has admitted that others have used his situation [his position as Episcopal Yale Chaplain?] to attack the Jewish community.”

> When did attacks upon the Jewish community come from the office of Yale’s Episcopal Chaplain?

> Perhaps the point here is that others have used some statement in the letter to attack Jews. If that is the case, then the fact that certain irresponsible persons might misuse a reasonable observation made in a letter to the TIMES does not show that the observation is unreasonable or irresponsible. It is not the responsibility of the person offering the observation to guarantee that no one will ever misuse or abuse it, or to guard against reprehensible persons repeating the observation in twisted form for their own sordid cause.

“You cannot disconnect his statements from the recent rise of antisemtism.”

> This claims that the Reverend’s three-sentence statement is somehow “connected” to “the recent rise of anti-Semitism.” If this assertion means that the Rev. Shipman’s letter has somehow CAUSED the recent increase of anti-Semitism, this is absurd. The Rev. Shipman’s statements did not pre-date the rise of anti-Semitic violence in Europe (which is the particular instance of anti-Semitism at issue in the letter). A given event (e.g., his statements), in order to CAUSE another event (the increase in anti-Semitic violence in Europe), must pre-date that second event.

If the intention is to show that the letter and the rise of anti-Semitism are “connected” by some similarity, then the points of similarity between the letter and the violent activity need to be articulated plainly. Simply claiming a statement is anti-Semitic and offering no explanation does not foster clear and honest dialogue.

“I read nothing [from “most mainline Protestants”] about Hamas leadership’s statement in the middle of the conflict that until every Jew in the middle east was killed he would not be happy.”

> The omission of the supposed statement from reports by these Protestants bears no relevance to whether the Rev. Shipman’s letter is anti-Semitic or otherwise biased, inaccurate, or unfair. The Rev. Shipman is not responsible for this omission by “most mainline Protestants.” His letter was not intended to identify all faults committed either by Hamas or by the Israel Defense Force; nor was it intended to exonerate either side from accusations lodged against it over the course of the conflict.

> What source reported this remark by “Hamas leadership”? Which Hamas leader supposedly made the statement? The prominent Hamas member Khalil Meshal? If so, then he has dramatically diverged from his earlier position toward Israel. Two years ago Meshal concluded successful negotiations with Israel for the release of an IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been captured by Hamas. Meshal, then, cannot be described as wholly recalcitrant toward negotiations with Israel. His willingness to negotiate is totally inconsistent with any desire to hae every Jew in the Middle East killed. (This same Meshal, who with his colleagues in Hamas entered in good faith negotiations with Israeli authorities for the release of their soldier, is the same Meshal who a few years earlier almost died from a poisoned dart wielded by Israeli spies conducting a raid in Jordan — in violation of Jordan’s sovereignty. It was only under intense pressure from President Clinton that the antidote to the poison was provided to Meshal’s physicians. See LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS ~ See WIKIPEDIA ~

Many responsible, honest leaders from time to time have had emotional outbreaks that diverge from their general behavior and their policies. I find it best to look to the avowed positions of leaders in their official statements. For example, the charter of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party (Likud, which dominates the Israeli Knesset) stipulates that no independent Palestinian state will ever come to exist. I am more troubled by this official statement by the leading political party in Israel — which by denying the two-state solution undermines any hope of peace — than by this report of a single remark by one member of the Hamas party, which is offered here without reference to a source. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a statement to a reporter said that Israel intends to “make a Pastrami sandwich” of the Palestinians: Establish a string of settlements across the West Bank, then another after a few years, and another after still more time passes. He explained that after 25 years there will be no possibility of uprooting these settlements, which will allow Israel eventually to possess the entire region from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. See THE NATION ~

“Nothing was said about the leadership of Gaza deliberately putting rockets aimed at Israel next to schools and hospitals. Nothing was said about the 74 children Hamas admitted died building tunnels whose intent was to enter Israel and kill Jews.”

> The Rev. Shipman’s letter was not intended to cover every fault in the war-making activities of Hamas or of Israel. His letter was in response to an article in the New York Times dealing with a far more narrow subject.

> Because Israeli and Egyptian leaders by their blockade on Gaza are imprisoning some two million people in the narrow stip of land called Gaza, the density of population there means that Hamas cannot fire at Israeli targets from any position except ones located in residential areas. It should be noted that this blockade is an act of war, begun by Israel many years ago and continuing now. Because of this fact, Israel in its war on Gaza has never observed an actual truce, although during the latest truce, Hamas held to its commitments.

> I do not support in any way the practice by Hamas of firing rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory — any more than I support Israel’s practice of shelling indiscriminately Gazan territory. Both of these constitute collective punishment — illegall under internatinal law and under the Geneva Conventions. Both were condemned in the Goldstone Report.

“[T]unnels whose intent was to enter Israel and kill Jews”

> The tunnels dug by Hamas are for the purpose of making war on Israel, which continues its illegal military actions against the Palestinian people and its illegal occupation of their land. Of course making war on Israel involves the killing of Jewish soldiers, members of the Israel Defense Force, just as Israel’s war against the Palestinian people involves killing Palestinians. For example, a few years ago Hamas raiders staged a skirmish against an IDF unit and captured on of their number named Gilad Shalit. If you have evidence of members of the Hamas fighting force killing innocent Jewish civilians through raids from the tunnels, present that evidence.

> The best way to stop the building of tunnels is to lift the blockade on Gaza — preferably in all its fronts, by land, air and sea. Gazan fishermen, for example, are prevented from plying their trade within Gazan waters; Israeli gunboats fire at them even while they remain within their legally assigned area. See Electronic Intifada ~ “Israel besieges Gaza’s fishing industry,”

Addison Bross


Great interview: real balance and nuance by both interviewer and interviewee (then I started to read the comments at the bottom, and saw lack of same. Depressing.)

I feel near total ambivalence about Fr Shipman: his letter, the fall-out, his forced departure. I feel like “On the one hand…” “…but on the other…”.

Those who commit acts of anti-Semitic violence are solely responsible for them. Full-stop.

…but just SAYING that, doesn’t prevent them from happening in the future. And yeah, Israel not (disproportionately, TimL!) smashing Gaza anymore WOULD *help* diminish the *likelihood* of such future anti-Semitic attacks.

It’s Both/And. And it’s so hard to find any “Both/And” when you’re talking about Israel/Palestine. 🙁

JC Fisher


My husband is Jewish and I will admit upfront that over the years as I have heard his family stories about the Christian Church’s impact on their lives from the being of WWII even through the allies decisions of what to do with family members after the camps were open I have a strong bias when it comes to any Christian clergy offering opinions of the Jewish community’s(including Israel)decisions of self survivor. I get his free speech argument but even he has admitted that others have used his situation to attack the Jewish community. You cannot disconnect his statements from the recent rise of antisemtism and I wish he had owned that. I will say this and then let others offer their points of view: the over all reaction of most mainline Protestants to the recent Gaza situation was never balanced. I read nothing about Hamas leadership’s statement in the middle of the conflict that until every Jew in the middle east was killed he would not be happy. Nothing was said about the leadership of Gaza deliberately putting rockets aimed at Israel next to schools and hospitals. Nothing was said about the 74 children Hamas admitted died building tunnels whose intent was to enter Israel and kill Jews. Even with my own bias I do have empathy for the Palestian people, it just that from my point of view Hamas is the greatest enemy not Israel.

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