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Episcopal speech named among 2018’s most anti-Semitic incidents

Episcopal speech named among 2018’s most anti-Semitic incidents

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has published its list of 2018’s 10 worst anti-Semitic incidents, and eighth on that list is statements given by Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts at General Convention in July which included fabricated stories of Israeli violence against Palestinians.

From the report, which can be found online here:

During a speech in Massachusetts last July, Bishop Gayle Harris reported that she witnessed an Israeli soldier arrest a three-year-old Arab child on the Jerusalem Temple Mount and gun down a 15-year old Palestinian teen in the back. After the Simon Wiesenthal Center exposed the claims as fabrications, Harris, the #2 Episcopal clergy in the state, backtracked, saying that she had only heard the stories from a third party (a Palestinian). “The fault is solely mine,” Harris said. “I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification.”

Those fabrications generated widespread outrage in the Jewish community. In an accompanying statement, Bishop Alan Gates acknowledged that “for Christian leaders to relate the unsubstantiated accounts 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.”

Numerous American church leaders have embraced the Palestinian narrative in the Holy Land, often to the detriment of the 8.9 million Jewish, Christian, and Muslim citizens of Israel. The Jewish state protects the rights and holy sites of all religions and is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population is increasing.

The full list:

  1. The shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October
  2. An October speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan
  3. Anti-semitic vandalism at American colleges and universities including Columbia, Duke, Cornell and Penn State
  4. UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism
  5. Curriculum control exercised by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
  6. AirBnB’s delisting of 200 rentals in Israeli communities on the West Bank
  7. Actions by German bank BDS
  8. Bishop Harris’ October speech
  9. Discrimination and anti-Semitic speech from the Swedish Karolinska Institute, which announces the Nobel Prize in medicine each year
  10. Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters’ rehetoric

We covered Bishop Harris’ remarks and the Simon Wiesenthal’s response in July, and Harris’ statement, released in August, as well as a statement from Bishop Alan Gates, of the Diocese of Massachusetts, here.

From Bishop Harris’ statement:

Our society is experiencing a rise in public slander, anger and bigotry, where civility and respectful dialogue on different perspectives has been sidelined for invective and condemnation.  In this context, I am now painfully aware that my words in the House of Bishops caused pain for many.  I am committed to share my concerns in ways that do not simplistically demonize others and cut off discussion, and I hope for the same in return.

Again, for the hurt I have caused, I do apologize.  It is my hope, and my commitment centered on our baptismal vows to continue to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (from The Baptismal Covenant, The Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer).  May there be such equality and respect between Israelis and Palestinians, and may there be among us all justice, in order to bring God’s peace.

Shalom and Salaam,
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Image: By Alexisrael – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


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Joseph Flanagan

I do not believe that her apology was adequate. She she gave a performance at a large conference in which she dramatically emoted with false sincerity about witnessing fabricated events. Saying that she is sorry if anyone was hurt is not sufficient. Something more along the lines of “I am abjectly sorry for having told vile lies to defame Israel. I understand that I have ruined any credibility that I may have on these matters. I beg for forgiveness from those who I have wronged” would have been more proper.

JoS. S Laughon

Good for her to acknowledge her wrong doing. While simple criticism of Israeli state policy or Israeli society is not antisemitic, gleefully repeating falsehoods of Jewish wrongdoing or denying valid Jewish statehood clearly is.

Charles Kinnaird

I am very sensitive to antisemitism in our country. I have a colleague who is a rabbi and I am involved in ecumenical endeavors on our community. It is especially important, considering the resurgence we are seeing today of white nationalist and neo-nazi groups. However, there is the troubling fact that Palestinians are being oppressed and discriminated against by the Israeli government. It is our Christian duty to stand with the oppressed and the marginalized.

The report seems to allude to such stances when it states, “Numerous American church leaders have embraced the Palestinian narrative in the Holy Land, often to the detriment of the 8.9 million Jewish, Christian, and Muslim citizens of Israel. ” Yes, I am all for speaking out against antisemitism and will decry any speech or action that disregards the sacred traditions of Judaism. This does not mean, however, that the State of Israel is immune from scrutiny. When it becomes the oppressor, we should call for justice.

John Clemens

Yes, let’s not confuse disagreements with Israeli government policies with anti-Semitism. Many people, including a substantial number of Jews believes that Netanyahu’s treatment of the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide. Also note that Israel’s assault on Palestinians does not distinguish between Palestinian Muslims or Christians. They are persecuted equally.

Brian Grieves

Here is our Church’s position, held since 1991 by General Convention. We must discern but not be silenced by fear in the face of injustice.

Resolution Number: 1991-D122
Title: Distinguish Between Criticism of Israeli Policy and Anti-Jewish Prejudice
Legislative Action Taken: Concurred
Final Text:
Resolved, That the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church recognize that a distinction exists between the propriety of legitimate criticism of Israeli governmental policy and action and the impropriety of anti-Jewish prejudice; and be it further

Resolved, That the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church deplore all expressions of anti-Jewish prejudice (sometimes referred to by the imprecise word “anti-Semitism”), in whatever form on whatever occasion, and urge its total elimination from the deliberations and affairs of the Episcopal Church, its individual members, its various units.

Citation: General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of 1991

Mike Geibel

Bishop Harris’ condemnation of Israel should have been #9 on the list. She did not mistakenly describe unverified stories she heard from others but falsely proclaimed that she personally witnessed Israeli Security Forces murder an unarmed Palestinian teenager and arrest a 3-year old boy. She did not retract these lies until her defalcations were exposed. We cannot excuse clergy who allow their prejudices to distort the truth, or who believe that “bearing false witness” is acceptable in the eyes of God if it achieves justice for Palestinians.

The depth of the offense taken by the Jewish Community is reflected in a painful reading of: “An Open Letter To The Episcopalians’ General Convention Hatefest.” The calls for BDS and the public condemnations of Israel accomplished nothing but public disgrace and ridicule for the Church.

SR Prive

It’s important to understand that the policies of the current Netanyahu government do not have overwhelming support of the Israeli people.His Likud party needed to join with four other parties in order to control the Knesset 61-59. Many Israeli Jews are as appalled by the oppression of the Palestinian people as they are by acts of terrorism by Palestinian and other militants. The next elections are coming in April.It remains vitally important that TEC joins with others to remind those on both sides in the Holy Land that”the whole world’s watching”!!


Use of the term genocide needs to be carefully thought out. Hitler sought to exterminate a genus. All Jews must die. He even went to regions outside Germany in an effort to bring Jews back and exterminate them in Germany. This seems to be to qualify use of the term genocide. That is, the determination to eliminate an entire race lock, stock, and barrel. Calling Trump a Nazi, e.g., isn’t wrong because one feels he does odious things; it is wrong because there were real Nazis and a real Adolph Hitler. I read that 66% of the US population does not know what Auschwitz is and what happened there. For this same population to then use the term Hitler to define Trump would logically mean, erasing the extermination camp reality from history.

Dana Lockhart

The Gaza situation is a perfect example of disproportionate criticism in action. Because two governments maintain the blockade. So if you are against the blockade in Gaza, why single out Netanyahu? Where are the activists calling for Egypt to reopen its border crossings and lift its restrictions on travel, imports/exports, etc for Gaza?

Netanyahu could dramatically change the material conditions on the ground in Gaza… but one phone call from El-Sisi would also. But for some reason Egypt gets a pass and Israel’s policies are “tantamount to genocide.”

(Of course, the fact that Egypt has policies in place to protect itself from Hamas supports the idea that Israel is similarly acting in self-defense)

When one nation, one group, one community in singled out for exclusive or excessive criticism, the burden is on the one criticizing to prove why it is justified. And given the long history of western Anti-semitism…. well, it’s hard to argue that it plays no role in the disparity.

Dana Lockhart

Excessive scrutiny, or even disproportionate scrutiny, is evidence of prejudice. Why was the House of Bishops discussing this issue in particular? How much time was given for other human rights conflicts around the globe?

No one is calling for Israel to be immune from criticism… but when you devote significantly less attention to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen… and tend not to feel quite as called to stand with the oppressed and the marginalized when it is the Rohingya in Burma or the Uyghurs in China… well, at some point you have to ask why this is so. Why does Israel deserve greater scrutiny? Why are we so much quicker to condemn the Jewish State?

Anti-Semitism is part of the answer. The history of Christianity does not let us off the hook on this.

Robert Button

I believe you are correct when you say “disproportionate scrutiny”. I am a progressive but I have often thought The Episcopal Church (of which I have been a proud communicant for 57 years) writ large has been more than a little tone deaf as well as historically uninformed when it comes to its view and understanding of Israel. After centuries of bigotry and mistreatment by the Christian west culminating in the Holocaust and more than a little foul treatment by it neighboring governments in the middle east, I think a little balance is in order. The Palestinians deserve their own state and to be treated with honor and dignity and when Israel fails in these regards they rightfully deserve criticism and scrutiny. But not “disproportionate” scrutiny.

Ed Harne

The United States has been a full partner in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. As U.S. citizens we have a civic responsibility to speak against Israel’s misdeeds and our government’s complicity in Israel’s behavior. The suggestion that we should not criticize Israel more than other countries makes no sense. Our criticism should be directed at both Israel and our own government for supporting Israel’s crimes.

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