Justice, Honesty and the Episcopalian Bishop

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In Jewish tradition, justice and mercy share an uneasy balance. But strict justice, without more, produces evil in the world. Indeed, we are beginning to see a growing trend among critics of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians who explain their hostility to the Jewish state as an outgrowth of their pursuit of justice for the weaker side in the long-running conflict. That inclination is understandable as a natural impulse to identify with the underdog. But that blind, reflexive reaction — couched in the “sacred pursuit of justice” mantra, especially when practiced by Israel’s critics — can make fools out of those who lack a degree of self-awareness and humility.

That’s exactly what happened to the Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, bishop suffragan, the second highest official in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. During a speech in July to the church’s General Convention, Harris claimed that she had witnessed Israeli security forces arrest a 3-year-old on the Temple Mount and shoot a 15-year-old in the back 10 times after making a comment to a group of soldiers.

“I was there a couple of years ago on the Temple Mount,” Harris said. “A 3-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 came up to the Temple Mount and attempted to put handcuffs on a 3-year-old little boy — for bouncing a rubber ball.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the media watch group CAMERA disputed this incident, and the one in which she claimed the Israeli soldiers shot the teenager for asking a question they found offensive. That’s all it took for Harris to backtrack and rewrite the stories. “I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and unintentionally framed them as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events,” she wrote in a public apology. “I was speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand.”

In other words, in the name of “justice,” Harris smeared Israel. The rest of her apology is meaningless boilerplate; we’ve read it before. Bishop Alan M. Gates, Harris’ superior, affirmed the apology. “We recognize that for Christian leaders to relate unsubstantiated accounts of Israeli violence 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.” Perhaps he is referring to the Holocaust, but Harris’ dishonesty and bias would be offensive without the Holocaust.

“Blood libel” is what the Wiesenthal Center and CAMERA slapped on Harris’ remarks. We don’t go quite so far, but the alarming offensiveness of the Harris episode should remind us all that it doesn’t take much of a lie to be gobbled up as fact by Israel’s critics.

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