The chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale has resigned from his post this week after his letter to the editor of the New York Times sparked controversy. In the letter, Rev. Bruce Shipman seemed to imply that the blame for anti-Semitic violence ought to lie with Israel.
When an Emory professor of Jewish studies Deborah Lipstadt wrote about the recent rise in European anti-Semitic violence, Shipman wrote in to complain that she hadn’t focused enough on Israel. “The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank. As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”
Critics, particularly those in the Jewish communities, attacked the letter almost immediately. They pointed out that by linking anti-Semitic violence with Israel’s actions, Shipman shifted the blame for the violence from the actual perpetrators to the Jewish state. “Next on Rev. Shipman’s bucket list,” snarked Jewish-American blogger David Bernstein, “blaming women who dress provocatively for rape, blaming blacks for racism because of high crime rates, and blaming gays for homophobia for being “flamboyant.” The author of the original article denounced Shipman’s comments as “beyond contempt.”
Shipman was criticized in a statement by Yale’s Senior Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Leah Cohen, also head of the Slifka Center of Jewish Life at Yale. “We are adamantly against any justifications of anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind. Individuals who perpetuate these ideas stand in the way of the thoughtful and open engagement that is emblematic of Slifka Center, the University Chaplain’s Office and Yale in general. Any individual or group who stands for or justifies hatred stands dramatically opposed to the mission of Slifka Center.”
The controversy swelled even further when an op-ed written by Shipman for a local Connecticut paper came to light. In it, Shipman painted the terrorist organization Hamas in a glowing light, and urged for it to be recognized. “Hamas’ continuation of the armed resistance is a way of telling Israel and the world that their spirit is not broken after 56 years of living as refugees without a country in a small area that is that one of the most densely populated places on earth…” he wrote, “The PLO was once branded a terrorist organization and now is the recognized voice of the Palestinian people. The same can surely be for Hamas when there is hope for a future living alongside Israel.”
Shipman at first doubled down on his comments, but eventually apologized in a second letter to Yale Daily News. “There can be little doubt that many who engage in [anti-Jewish violence] use the Israel/Palestine dispute as an excuse to mask a much deeper disorder known as anti-Semitism. I ought to have said this in my letter… Nothing done in Israel or Palestine justifies the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe or elsewhere.” Nonetheless, Shipman’s days at Yale were numbered, and his resignation was announced this Tuesday.
Whatever humility Shipman had found in his apology letter has dissipated by the looks of his reaction to his (presumably forced) resignation. “Within hours of the publication of my letter … there was an avalanche of angry email that continued for several days,” Shipman told Yale Daily News. “It was ugly and accompanied by harassing telephone calls to my home … The message to many will be that bullying tactics succeed.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut maintains that Shipman’s resignation has nothing to do with the swirling controversy. Instead, he says Shipman told him that it had more to do with interpersonal conflicts and leadership dynamics within the church. “It’s not as glamorous a story to hear that Priest-in-Charge Bruce Shipman resigned because of institutional dynamics within the Episcopal Church at Yale and not the debates related to Israel and Palestine,” Bishop Douglas said to Yale Daily News, “but it’s the truth.” But Shipman contradicted the bishop, telling Yale Daily News that the lack of support from the board surrounding the recent controversy “directly led to his resignation.”