A long-established tendency among U.S. mainline Protestant denominations to “blindly accept and repeat the Palestinian narrative” is ultimately responsible for the fabricated claims of Israeli human rights abuse made by a Massachusetts Episcopalian bishop that resulted in her apologizing over the weekend, a veteran US Jewish leader said on Tuesday.
“Over more than a decade, we’ve seen attempts by mainline groups to adopt BDS resolutions and other one-sided resolutions,” Daniel Mariaschin — the Washington, DC-based CEO of B’nai B’rith International — told The Algemeiner in an interview.
These efforts, said Mariaschin, “have wound up, frankly, at the point where Bishop Harris said what she said.”
Bishop Gayle Harris, who serves as a suffragan (assisting) bishop in the Massachusetts diocese, falsely told the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in a July 3 speech that Israeli troops had carried out a gruesome execution of a Palestinian teenage boy.
Without citing a location or a date, Harris claimed that after an argument with Israeli troops, the boy had fled in panic. “They shot him in the back four times,” Harris asserted. “He fell on the ground and they shot him again another six.”
In the same speech, she also claimed — again without any citation — that a three-year old Palestinian child in eastern Jerusalem was handcuffed by the IDF after his rubber ball accidentally bounced onto the Western Wall Plaza, where thousands of Jews worship daily.
Both these stories were fabrications. Over the weekend, Harris said that she had been “speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand.”
She continued: “I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.”
Harris’ immediate senior, the Rt. Rev. Alan Gates, added that the church “grieve(s) damage done to our relationships with Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, and (would) rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.”
Mariaschin commented that Harris’ original allegations demonstrated “how little she knows about the subject and her judgment.” He continued: “We’re talking here about clergy who exercise a great deal of influence over parishioners and congregants in their communities.” Mariaschin emphasized while the controversy over Harris’ claims “happened to become public, this kind of thing has been going on for years.”
Describing Harris’ comments as a “real time example of repeating lies and taking false information at face value by an otherwise responsible member of the clergy,” Mariaschin said that she “should have known better.”
“If it took her diocese to explain this and she still doesn’t get it, then there is a problem there as well,” he added.
The B’nai B’rith chief warned of a repeat of such controversies as long as “you engage in blood libels like this.”
“This kind of thinking then goes to the annual meetings, where hours and hours on end are spent trading these kinds of stories and exchanging these kinds of opinions, which then wind up in BDS resolutions,” Mariaschin explained. “This has inflicted terrible harm on us over the years.”
A total of eight resolutions attacking Israel were tabled at the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in early July, where Harris made her comments.
In one resolution on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations adopted by the convention, the prospect of a so-called “one-state solution” — whereby Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish and democratic state — was raised as a serious option.
Efforts to resolve the conflict “may encompass other solutions such as one binational state or confederation, recognizing that these possibilities are being raised as the material conditions for a two-state solution have deteriorated due to accelerated [Israeli] settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the Oslo Accords [the Israeli-Palestinian agreement of 1993] were signed,” the resolution argued.