The Resignation of Bruce Shipman

Last week, The Rev. Bruce Shipman resigned as the Episcopal Chaplain at Yale. He had written a letter to the New York Times about the connection between Israeli actions and the recent anti-Semitic violence in Europe, and quickly received the approbation of numerous pundits. Since then, he has been vilified as an anti-Semite, with mainly a single letter as evidence, his background and previous views exposed and critiqued before the press. Others even accused him of raising the specter of the holocaust and describing him and his words as vile and sickening. Even more, he hates Jews.

Really? This is dialogue? Did I read the same letter?

The argument is that Fr. Shipman was blaming the victim. Perhaps. This accusation implies that victims cannot also be perpetrators. In the context of war, the argument is a good way of justifying that the Palestinians caused their own problems (blaming the victim, indeed). In this way, Israel abdicates its own responsibility for conducting a war, offering the comfort to her supporters that the obliteration of Gaza was necessary and unavoidable. They just had to do it.

This view, however, ignores the possibility that in any conflict, the dynamic includes multiple partners. Might it be that no individual or single institution is singularly responsible; we all have dirty hands? This alternate perspective, of course, disappears when we’re talking about good vs evil, and because our side – by nature – is always on the side of good.

When did we all become such Manicheans?

The argument that Israel is responsible for increased occurrences anti-Semitism requires some excavation. Perviously, Norman Finklestein argued such in his book The Holocaust Industry, where he posited that the “shakedown” of Swiss banks and the institutional diminishment of other genocides might have increased European resentment towards those organizations seeking reparations. I’m not sure how to evaluate such claims, but what’s plausible that is that money, opportunism and moral righteousness make an appealing, and appalling trifecta.

For some, this is construed as reaffirming anti-Semitic stereotypes; but for some of us, opportunism is universal behavior. To claim that such accusations are anti-Semitic becomes a slight-of-hand, a get out of jail free card that directs away from  crime itself. The power to accuse someone of anti-Semitism ensures an impenetrable armor of righteousness. It makes it harder for some to gather justice when the accusation doesn’t actually fit the behavior.

Let us be clear: anti-Semitism, like all hatred of minority communities, should be swiftly condemned. In Shipman’s case, contra the headline of the American Interest, he was referring to institutional actors (the patrons, like the United States of America itself) who do influence policy, not all the Jews themselves. I’d be a little more precise: Israel should not be blamed for anti-Semitism, but be unsurprised by blowback. Both Hamas and Israel might want to consider the long term consequences of their violence. Israel’s previous support of Hamas and ambivalence toward Fatah, and their success in occupying the West Bank have had repercussions. And I’m not the sort who compares Israel to the Reich, nor do I think that Israel is creating an apartheid state. But it’s evident that living in Palestine isn’t kittens and rainbows, and Israel bears a greater responsibility for the conditions on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza.

The other question is practical: Do American Jewish Institutions do have an impact on Israel, or on our own relationship with Israel?  It seems to me that if Israel has an impact on the decisions of the United States, a realist position identifies those institutions that have credibility in Israel. My own institutions do not; but I know of plenty of Jewish institutions that have stronger relationships. I work with some them in a variety of ways to keep our dialogue going and identify ways to create peace. I would say, even, they DO feel responsible already.

Unfortunately, there is an unintended consequence of his resignation. It implies the anti-Semitic belief in a Jewish conspiracy to overwhelm honest public conversations about Israel. It makes Shipman’s critics look like powerful, abusive, easily frightened bullies. Who’s really scared of an academic Episcopal cleric? No person who knows Fr. Shipman would accuse him of having a single anti-Semitic bone in his body. And yet, the opposition has gone on to gang up on him (crucify?) for his imprecision and error. What is unfortunate is that these are the sorts of critics who seem motivated by the view that peace between Israel and Palestine is a zero sum game. One side’s victims can be known and acknowledged; the others deserve their fate.

Shipman never advocated violence against Israel, or its elimination. He is not a militant supporter of Hamas. He has toured the holy land with Jews and Arabs. After he wrote the letter, he met with Professor Maurice Samuels, director of the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.  Is that the action of someone who is a vile Jew hater? No. Because he isn’t, in spite of the claims of his critics. Misinformed? Possibly. Tone deaf? Surely. Wrong? Who knows?

Shipman should have stayed, if only to illustrate that honest, hard conversations in the academy are necessary. Let him be called names; let him be engaged; let his error be corrected.

But let the conversation continue.

Advertisements

3 comments on “The Resignation of Bruce Shipman

  1. Carl Dreyer says:

    Dear Fr. Gawain,

    Thanks for your thoughts on the Shipman resignation. I agree that Shipman’s critics’ main arguments are unjustified. His letter in no way indicates that he is antisemitic nor does he imply that the victims of antisemitism are responsible for crimes against them.

    But I disagree with your statement that “Israel’s patrons abroad” refers to institutional actors like the US. My reading is that Shipman was, indeed, referring to pro Israel Jews and Jewish institutions; and specifically those pro Israel Jews like Lipstadt who are very much concerned about the rise of antisemitic behaviors but less concerned about the crimes of the Israeli army in Gaza and the occupied territories.

    The desire to suppress anti Israel opinion is specifically the aim of most of the critics. They are not worried about feeding stereotypes of Jewish power. Was AIPAC worried about this when they got the US Senate to support the Gaza invasion?

    If pro Israel Jews can force someone like Shipman out at Yale without much protest, they are surely helping their cause of limiting the debate.

    I am Jewish and have for many years been following what in Israel is referred to as the “Jewish Lobby” in the US. In my opinion, the Shipman affair is a new low in the shameful tactics that the Lobby uses to suppress dissent. I am sure that there were donor threats involved at Yale but since it is a private institution there can be no Freedom of Information Requests to prove this as was the case with the Steven Salaita firing at UIUC.

    If Shipman would have stayed, then been fired (which I am sure would have been the case) he could have sued, A suit would have meant that through the discovery process much of the truth of his dismissal would have seen the light of day. At the least, Shipman would have been able to receive a bountiful settlement from both Yale and the Episcopalians in exchange for keeping the facts of this sordid affair from the public.

    Best,

    Ira Glunts

    • Fr Gawain says:

      Thank you for your comment, Ira. I admit, I had an expansive view of what “patrons” meant. However, although I agree that AIPAC is particularly powerful, there are other lobbyists who have real power – like the worldwide energy industry – that operate in Washington. The military and state department also moderate the influence of AIPAC influence, as well. Add also the political reality that most Americans remain instinctively supportive of Israel and you get the ground work to ensure some critics are silenced.

      In this case, I uspect it won’t work out as planned. Shipman was low-hanging fruit, and easy target. He hadn’t the public profile of a William Sloan Coffin, and had already been retired. For him, the consequences of resigning were fortunately minor. And now he has an even greater platform. I hope, think, and pray he is fine in the midst of this.

  2. Although I don’t know all the background to your post, I am aware of some of the tensions in American and world politics. I also know how people can be slated for trying to say the truth.
    Because I like your wisdom I am nominating you for the one lovely blog award: http://reflectionsduringlent.wordpress.com/morning-surprise-one-lovely-blog-award/
    Please follow the link and accept this award.
    All the Best,
    Julia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s