The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has apologized to the Jewish community after one of its bishops repeated unverified and misleading stories about the Israeli military at the church’s July convention in Austin, Texas.
In a pair of statements Friday, Bishop Alan M. Gates, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and Bishop Gayle E. Harris, who serves as Gates’s second in command, apologized for the “hurt” caused when Harris told church members two stories about alleged mistreatment of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers.
Harris shared the anecdotes while speaking at the General Convention during deliberations over a resolution to “Safeguard the Rights of Palestinian Children.”
“I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and unintentionally framed them as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events,” Harris said. “I sincerely apologize.”
“I now understand how the framing of my words could and did give the wrong impression. The fault is solely mine,” she said, adding that she “was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification.”
Gates underscored Harris’s apology and said the church “recognize[s] 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.”
“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,” he wrote, adding that the church reaffirms its “condemnation of violence on all sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
A spokeswoman for the diocese declined to comment further on Monday evening.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston welcomed the statements from both bishops, posting on Facebook that they “look forward to continued engagement with [Harris], Bishop Gates, and the Episcopal Diocese of [Massachusetts] as we seek to advance our shared goal of a two-state solution.”
Harris’s statements were “highly inflammatory,” the council wrote, noting that at least one event she referred to “could not physically have happened as described.”
The council also thanked AJC New England, a Jewish advocacy group, and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America for their “positive impact on the Diocese leadership during their consideration of these events.”
The council reached out to Harris and Gates after the explosive stories became public, and the two “responded immediately to our request to meet with them, to express our concerns about grave damage caused to the Jewish community by the problematic statement,” according to the post.
“In the course of this meeting, we urged Bishop Harris to make public the apology and sentiments she shared with us,” the group said.
“We had a very open conversation,” Nahma Nadich, the deputy director of the council, said in an interview Monday evening. “It led to some important soul-searching.”
Nadich said the council “felt there was a great deal at stake” as the council and the church collaborate regularly on critical community issues such as gun violence and homelessness.
“We made sure to have a conversation directly with them, and the apology was issued the next day,” she said. “We wanted them to understand the centuries of accusations, unfounded accusations of violence, which spurred more violence against Jews.”
The meeting, Nadich said, allowed for the two groups to “repair any rupture in our relationship.”
“This is not the end of the conversation,” Nadich said, but it’s a move that makes further conversation possible, even on areas where the groups disagree.
According to Nadich, members of the Jewish community in Boston have expressed appreciation for the church “taking responsibility for the hurt they inflicted on the Jewish community.”
“The fact that they apologized and took responsibility makes it possible to have conversations about this fraught issue,” she said, “and to collaborate on the issues we are working on in Massachusetts.”