A cross and a star of david.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
What is Christianity about? Is it about experiencing and sharing the love of God with humanity? Or do Christians feed on the negative energy fueled by narratives that portray Jews as the repugnant, evil other?
Christians of every stripe need to ask themselves this in light of the scandal initiated by Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. During the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Austin, Texas, in July, Harris accused Israeli soldiers of shooting a 15-year-old boy in the back 10 times because he asked them a question that was not to their liking.
She made it sound like she was a first-hand witness to the murder she described. She did this to give credence to her story, which she offered to support a one-sided and polemical overture that condemned Israel for allegedly mistreating Palestinian children. (Predictably, the resolution made no reference to Palestinian crimes against children.)
This is exactly what she said during her time at the microphone in the General Convention’s House of Bishops: “I have been there when a teenager, I think he was 15, was walking down the street and asked a military vehicle, the Israeli government, a question and because that question was not one of the liking of those soldiers, he began to run as they threatened him and they shot him in the back four times. He fell on the ground and they shot him another six.”
She also said that she was “there a couple of years ago” on the Temple Mount when Israeli soldiers came up to the site to handcuff a three-year-old boy who accidentally allowed a rubber ball he was playing with to roll over the Western Wall. Yes, Palestinians have been known to throw rocks onto the heads of Jews as they pray at the Western Wall, but there is simply no way a rubber ball can innocently “roll over” the obstacles between the Temple Mount and the plaza below.
It turns out that Harris was not “there” like she said she was. A few weeks after Harris offered her testimony to her fellows in the House of Bishops, she apologized for passing on unsubstantiated atrocity stories and for falsely implying that she that witnessed the events she described. Reading between the lines, it was pretty clear that Harris understood that she was misled, and allowed herself to be misled, by whoever told her the stories she passed on.
“I acknowledge also that I did not take the opportunity to verify these stories,” she said in her apology. “I was speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand. I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.”
If a murder had actually happened in the way Harris described it, the whole world would know because Palestinian activists and their allies in the human rights community would be telling everyone about it. The parents would be interviewed and we’d be shown footage from the boy’s funeral.
Hopefully, Harris’s apology will prompt Episcopalians to examine what it is about their church’s culture that allowed her logically improbable and false statements about Israel to go unchallenged by her fellow bishops. Other Christians, particularly those mainline Protestants in the United States need to regard what happen in the Episcopal Church as a cautionary tale.
THERE’S A LOT at stake. Let’s face it, when people lie about Israel, they are lying about Jews. It’s that simple. The people who tell us again and again that there is no logical unity between the Jewish state and the Jewish people are the very same ones who ask us why and how Jews can support Israel in spite of all the terrible things it supposedly does to the Palestinians.
When Christian leaders like Bishop Harris falsely portray Israel as a murderous and marauding state, they portray Jews who support Israel as a murderous and marauding people. It is exactly this type of narrative that has made life for Jews in Europe increasingly untenable. If Jihadists in the Middle East or Europe were to hear Harris’s testimony, they would cheer. That is why her remarks were so devastating and why her apology was so necessary.
In 1988, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention passed a resolution that lamented how in Christian history, “Jews and Jewish groups were portrayed as negative models, and the truth and beauty of Christianity were thought to be enhanced by setting up Judaism as false and ugly.” The statement adds, “Unfortunately, many of the early Church fathers defamed the Jewish people.”
Sadly enough, this defamation continues and not just in the Episcopal Church. For many so-called Christian “peacemakers,” the Jewish state is the scapegoat of choice. They travel to the Holy Land and speak to Palestinian Christians who offer up a one-sided and distorted narrative about the Israel-Palestinian conflict that absolves the Palestinians of all responsibility. They tell stories about Israeli misdeeds, many of them false, and then offer up excuse after excuse for Palestinian misdeeds. In their overarching narrative which minimizes and obscures the hatred for the Jew that permeates Palestinian civil society, Jewish efforts at self-defense are, by definition, more blameworthy than Palestinian efforts to attack Jews.
These peace activists who are addicted to feelings of righteous indignation work themselves up into a frenzy of hostility toward Israel and then look for opportunities to relive and recite the stories they’ve been told.
For these folks – the people who place Israelis in the slot of the “repugnant other” to affirm their own identities as good progressive Christians – the national assemblies of mainline Protestant churches are perfect platforms for reciting the set pieces of Jewish villainy and Palestinian innocence that they’ve learned on their visits to the Holy Land.
The Episcopal Church warned against exactly this type of behavior. In the 1988 document about Christian-Jewish relations, the Church’s General Convention declared, “Christians are called to oppose all religious prejudices through which Jews or any people are made scapegoats for the failures and problems of societies and political regimes.” It also declared, “The Church must learn to proclaim the Gospel without generating contempt for Judaism or the Jewish people.”
These are words that Christians need to live by. Hopefully, Bishop Gayle Harris will set an example for them to follow in the years ahead. Whatever happens next, people will be listening very closely to what she has to say.The writer is Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
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