Gayle Harris

“I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so,” Gayle Harris, Suffragan Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, stated. 

By: United with Israel Staff

Gayle Harris, Suffragan Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, has apologized for presenting unsubstantiated atrocity stories against Israel during her church’s General Convention in July.

“The fault is solely mine,” she said in a statement issued Friday. “I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so,” she said.

Alan M. Gates, the Diocesan Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, affirmed her apology, declaring, “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.”

In mid-July, Harris, the second-in-command at the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, testified in favor of the passage of a resolution that condemned Israel for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinian children. In her testimony, she described two terrible acts of Israeli villainy, and said “I was there” when they both happened.

She alleged that “a couple of years ago on the Temple Mount. A three-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 camp up to the Temple Mount and attempted to put handcuffs on a three-year-old little boy — for bouncing a rubber ball.”

Not only was her testimony completely false, if she had actually been there, she would have known that the event she described is physically impossible.

She further alleged that “[she] was there when a teenager, I think he was 15, was walking down the street and asked a military vehicle, the Israeli government, a question and because that question was not one of the liking of those soldiers, he began to run as they threatened him and they shot him in the back four times he fell on the ground and they shot him another six.”

The Episcopal Church subsequently rejected the measure to divest from Israel, but five other resolutions critical of Israel were passed by the House of Deputies

‘Unverifiable and Unsubstantiated Atrocity Stories’

Harris’ “irresponsible use of unverifiable and unsubstantiated atrocity stories” prompted the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) to express their outrage to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

In response to these complaints, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts issued a statement earlier this month in which Harris admitted that she did not personally witness the events she described to her fellow bishops, but was passing on what she had heard from others during her trips to Israel.

Harris’s subsequent apology and Gates’s affirmation were issued, in part, in response CAMERA’s efforts to document the false and defamatory charges she leveled at a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops during the General Convention in July.

CAMERA stated that it “welcomes the positive statements of the bishops. Hopefully, Harris’s apology will serve as a springboard for better relations between the Episcopal Church and the Jewish community grounded in appreciation of the vital need to investigate the truth of any allegations made about the Jewish state.”

CAMERA added that it “hopes recent events will also prompt Episcopalians to examine what it is about their church’s culture that allowed Bishop Harris’s logically improbable and false statements about Israel to go unchallenged by her fellow bishops.”

“Perhaps her apology will also prompt other Christian groups engaged in peacemaking efforts to consider how their polemics make things worse and not better for the people affected by the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the organization concluded.

The move by the Episcopalians to reject divestment in July came just weeks after the Presbyterian Church USA passed several anti-Israel resolutions while also expressing support for the BDS movement at its General Assembly in St. Louis.

The Episcopal Church has previously rejected boycott efforts, while the United Church of Christ in 2015 and the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in 2014 voted to divest from companies they deem “complicit in the occupation.”