Bruce Shipman, who was forced out of his job as an Episcopal chaplain at Yale for a letter he wrote to the New York Times saying that Gaza was helping to foster anti-Semitism, has responded to the controversy with a clear, strong piece in the Hartford Courant declaring that he will not stop talking about Palestinian apartheid and the role of the Israel lobby just because people have pinned a scarlet letter A on him — anti-Semite. It’s such a strong piece because Shipman is emphatic, combative, and reflective. The issue of Palestinian human rights and AIPAC “must be brought into the light.” He found that Yale was incapable of talking about the issue long before he was forced out– university chaplain Sharon Kugler told him flatly that he must not bring up Israel and Palestine at monthly meetings — and that’s tragic.
And as for being called an anti-Semite, Shipman says he will reflect on possible error, but he is not going to allow McCarthyite tactics to shut him up. And by hitting back at Kugler and a leading Connecticut Jewish official, Jerry Fischer, for offensive irresponsible accusations against him, Shipman has turned the tables.
Some excerpts. First, the importance of the issue and the inability of Yale’s chaplains to discuss it:
I am deeply concerned just now that others will be intimidated by my experience and thus fear raising the issue of the issue of the relationship between the United States and Israel, and the fact that apartheid conditions obtain for Palestinians in the West Bank and far worse in Gaza. Also intimidating is the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israel lobby, described in meticulous detail by Connie Bruck in the Sept. 1 issue of The New Yorker. These are issues that demand public discourse without the fear of being labeled with the “A” word.
Where better to address these issues than the campus of a great university? To my dismay, at Yale I found that “that issue” was not to be raised at the monthly meetings of the chaplains. In April, when asked to tell what we had done during spring break, I described my recent visit to the West Bank with a group from Yale Divinity School and the Episcopal Church at Yale. I said that we were deeply troubled by the settlement activity and the policy of separation exemplified by the Wall and the road systems. Chaplain Sharon Kugler rebuked me after the meeting and said that this subject must never again be raised at meetings of the whole.
Shipman is high minded, and it’s great how he merges the lobby and apartheid, as joint issues.
The issue of freedom to speak one’s conscience is on my mind… If the chaplains are to be muzzled and relegated to pastoral care only, that needs to be spelled out. Any chaplain worth his salt will insist that prophetic witness is a part of biblical ministry that must be respected.
These are the issues that concern me just now. Regarding whether or the not the letter is anti-Semitic, I am prepared to learn, and I believe I have learned, why it was so offensive to some. I do object to being labeled and having my character attacked — I mean, those are the methods of Joseph McCarthy. And I insist that “that subject” be brought into the light and that people be allowed to question the United States-Israel relationship and let the world know about what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the influence of AIPAC on U.S. policy in the region and toward Iran.
Here is his meditation on his own alleged anti-Semitism:
Is the letter anti-Semitic? A sampling of Yale undergraduates, asked this question by the Yale Daily News, fell everywhere on the graph, from “no, not at all”, to “yes, definitely.” Is it? Those who believe so have not hesitated to brand me with the scarlet “A,” and sadly that includes Jerry Fischer of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, whose words I will not dignify by repeating in this essay. Frankly, I am embarrassed for him.
What was Fischer’s embarrassing criticism? It appeared in the Courant:
“I think that it [Shipman’s letter] was a very, very poor choice of words,” Fischer said. “And I think it revealed a belief that he may hold that the Jews really do control everything.”
The statement implied Jews somehow deserve to be hated, Fischer said.
“The idea is that the Jews are a class of people who all think the same, who all have power, and all they have to do is stop doing this and everyone will stop hating them,” Fischer said. “It’s ridiculous.”
More signs of the opening this case represents. Columnist Colin McEnroe writes in the Courant that the barriers to bringing up the subject are arbitrary and punitive. You’re not allowed to step in because
a) one can never read enough so that one feels as well-informed as the people one winds up talking to, and b) even if one did, the odds of getting one’s head cloven in two for what seemed like a semi-reasonable remark are unusually high.
The second thing is a problem. Even though I don’t understand the Palestinian question, I think I do understand that useful conversations are impeded by the number of ideas regarded as so far out of bounds that they might cost you your job or reputation, if you voiced them in relative innocence.
Shipman’s witness is helping to end this prohibition. He understands that the method of his blacklisting is itself part of the problem, so he is going to talk about it. Great.