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Bishops apologize for false atrocity stories about Israel spread at summer convention

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts apologized for spreading false atrocity stories about Israel at the denomination’s convention in July.

A sign for an Episcopal Church. Credit: Jerry Richardson via Flickr.
A sign for an Episcopal Church. Credit: Jerry Richardson via Flickr.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts apologized on Friday for spreading false atrocity stories about the Jewish state at the denomination’s convention in July.

As JNS reported earlier, Bishop Gayle Harris alleged that she was on the scene when Israeli soldiers shot a Palestinian teenager 10 times in the back. She also claimed that she was on the Temple Mount when Israeli soldiers tried to handcuff a 3-year-old boy for letting his toy ball “roll over” the Western Wall.

Harris apparently made the comments to win congregational approval for an anti-Israel resolution.

Dexter Van Zile from the watchdog group CAMERA proved that neither claim was true, and that the bishop could not have been a witness to the non-existent atrocities.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, Tablet magazine, Algemeiner and CAMERA likened her words to a modern-day “blood libel.”

“She made it sound like she was an eyewitness to two terrible acts of villainy by Israeli soldiers that never happened,” Van Zile told JNS.

“After reviewing my words in the House of Bishops from a transcription, I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and unintentionally framed them as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events,” said Harris. “I sincerely apologize.”

“I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so,” she added.

“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,” said Bishop Alan Gates, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. “We grieve damage done to our relationships with Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, and rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.”

Van Zile said he hopes the apology causes the denomination to reflect on its sources of information.

“Reading between the lines, I think that Bishop Harris realizes that whoever told her these stories badly misinformed her,” said Van Zile. “On my trips to the West Bank, I see a fair number of well-meaning Christians believing everything they are told by Palestinian activists—lock, stock and barrel. Christians need to listen to what they are told with a very critical ear.”

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