July 16, 2019

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Response to Episcopalian Bishops on the matter of bearing false witness about Israel


Recently a scandal arose in the Episcopalian Church about a resolution to boycott Israel. Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris spoke in favor of the measure, depicting Israel as a brutal regime abusing its superior fire-power to oppress the Palestinians terribly.  In one particular incident she told a detailed story of Israeli soldiers, annoyed with a youth’s questions, shooting him in the back repeatedly, and gave the distinct impression to everyone who heard her, that she was an eye-witness.

story of shooting in the back 1o times, at 1:10.

When word got out, beyond the BDS bubble in which the lethal narrative had been welcomed, and in which it contributed to the passing of the resolution, people who knew how preposterous a story it was, demanded that Bishop Harris specify where and when these ‘impossible’ stories happened. Forced to a precision she could not give, the good bishop apologized for “unintentionally” giving the impression she was an eye-witness when she was not, and Bishop Gates, of the Boston diocese, further lamented the events. Even the Boston Globe wrote about it, although they waited till they had a happy ending of fulsome apology and acceptance by Jewish community leaders.

Two of the more vocal critics of Bishop Harris’ testimony, Dexter Van Zile of CAMERA, and Rabbi Elchanan Poupko, have expressed a sense of unease about the quality of the apologies. I post my letter in support of their reservations below:

Dear Bishop Gates:
Let me add mine to Rabbi Poupko’s voice of concern. I find this whole incident deeply disturbing, even in Bishop Harris’ and your efforts to apologize.

First, I find it problematic of Bishop Harris to speak of “unintentional framing,” when her words were clearly those of an eyewitness: “I’ve been there when a teenager…” She owes it to herself and to everyone else to own her false testimony, done with the intent to give the story credibility, and turn her audience against Israel. It is unclear from her apology, if she’s aware that her testimony, whether first or second-hand, may be (is almost certainly) false. Has she or anyone in your church tried to find out?
Furthermore, her protestations of even-handedness ring hollow when she passes over the vicious campaigns of suicide terror targeting Israeli women and children, conducted both by Hamas and the PLO, and instead reduces Palestinian violence to “throw[ing] rocks and burn[ing] tires and [writing] graffiti…”!! 
Second, I find your own apology somewhat disheartening: you apologize for “hurting” our “feelings,” of “damaging your relationship” with us, of stirring our painful memories a “deep history of inciting hostility and violence against” us … 
You do not apologize for your part in reviving these ancient hatreds that as you say “echo alarmingly in our day.” You do not apologize for the atmosphere in which Bishop Harris felt entirely justified – until unexpectedly challenged – in bearing false witness against us with a modern-day version of the “blood libel” – ie, Jews deliberately kill gentile children. You do not apologize for repeating the slanders of enemies who nurse a murderous hatred towards us, and wish you to share that hatred.
I may be wrong about both you and Bishop Harris and your apologies. But if I am, the proof is in the pudding. 
Annul the decision taken in the wake of Bishop Harris’ misleading if not outright false testimony. And before adopting so one-sided a resolution, bring in (or depose) her (Palestinian) witness(es), and allow the IDF to respond to their claims. More broadly, bring in witnesses from “both sides” to tell their side of the story, and even some from other places in the world whose plight you ignore in your obsession with our behavior. 
You owe it to your own moral integrity and to your claim to have an ethical voice, as well as to the people, the world over, who suffer from injustice and whose champion you would like to be.
I would be happy to suggest some of the people  you might have in to inform you of realities on the ground here in the land between the river and the sea…
I apologize in advance if any of my criticism hurts your feelings. That is not my intent.
Richard Landes
Senior Fellow,
Bar Ilan Center for International Communication

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