Here is a story that should be of concern to us in Massachusetts, whatever our faith or lack of faith and whatever our politics. The Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris, the suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, gave a speech last month at the general convention of the Episcopal Church last month in support of a resolution aimed at Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children. Her speech was emotional and based on her own personal experience:
We do know that there are both sides share a story and there are different sides within each story. But this story is about the power of a state over an oppressed people and while Palestinians may throw rocks and burn tires and have graffiti, the Israeli government has used consistently weapons that are militaristic and are violent.
I was there a couple of years ago on the Temple Mount. A three-year-old little boy, a Palestinian with his mother, was bouncing a rubber ball. The ball happened to sort of roll away from him and go over the side down to the Western Wall otherwise known as the Wailing Wall. And immediately, Israeli soldiers camp up to the Temple Mount and attempted to put handcuffs on a three-year-old little boy—for bouncing a rubber ball.
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 that 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. Violence on both sides is deplorable, but those who have greater power and technology have a greater responsibility for re-constraint.
As someone who had seen injustice with her own eyes, Bishop Harris had the moral authority to give such a speech. Except, as it turns out, that Bishop Harris was fudging a little bit: she had not seen any of what she described with her own eyes. Although I can’t find the statement itself anywhere online, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, last week Bishop Harris:
admitted that she did not personally witness the events she described to her fellow bishops on July 13, 2018 but was passing on what she had heard from others during her trips to Israel.
She does not say who these sources are, nor does she provide any other confirmatory details.
There is no evidence I can find, or that CAMERA could find, to support the claim about the child shot ten times in the back, or even reports of that alleged incident, other than the Bishop’s speech to her colleagues. And the Simon Wiesenthal Center has asserted that the incident of the boy with the ball could not possibly have happened as Bishop Harris described it.
Why am I writing about this? Why is this important? Look, we all have, ah, embellished stories from time to time. If you’re talking to a group of colleagues and you’re bullshitting, most likely you’re embellishing your story in a direction you think they’ll like or that you think they’ll approve. And because we are by nature political animals, we have very good instincts for what is good bullshit and what isn’t. So if I’m a juggler, I might tell my fellow jugglers about the time I saw someone juggle seven knives even if I only really saw seven balls. Or if I am a surgeon, I might tell my fellow surgeons about the time I saw a tumor that was THIS BIG when in fact it was only this big. Or if I’m a fisherman—you get the point. But I would never tell a tall tale like this that I knew would be implausible to my listeners, at least as long as the drinking hadn’t really commenced in earnest. This is a slightly different kind of bullshit, by the way, than the Brian-Williams-in-a-helicopter kind. That kind of BS means to impress listeners by suggesting that the bullshitter was brave in the face of real danger, though I don’t hear that in Bishop Harris’s remarks.
So what the Bishop Harris story tells me is that establishment Episcopalians are predisposed to believe outrageous stories of Israeli or Jewish crimes against Palestinians and that they know each other to be predisposed in that direction. Indeed, this is a clear tendency in much of what we used to call mainline American Protestantism. In the olden days, when telling stories like this might lead to a pogrom, we might call a story like the story of the boy shot ten times a blood libel. Actually, given that Hamas launched 174 rockets into Israel from Gaza just a few days before Bishop Harris’s remarks, perhaps we should take BS like the kind Bishop Harris was dishing out a little more seriously.