Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Rev. Shipman's Experience

Tablet Magazine has a very revealing interview with former Yale Chaplain Rev. Bruce Shipman, who lost his position after attributing anti-Semitic violence in Europe to "Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza." He suggested that "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." In other words, a plea for respectability politics.

The interview was quite informative, in its way. For starters, I found out that Rev. Shipman attended Carleton. That, needless to say, is disconcerting -- I hope he didn't develop his outlook on Jews at Carleton. And I also hope he didn't learn how to answer an interview at Carleton. Because boy, is this one ever a disaster for him.

If one was to characterize a theme to Rev. Shipman's responses, it would have to be "self-pity". He really, honestly, absolutely truly sees himself as the victim here. All the controversy is just hot-headed Jews who refused to listen to reason. We get a long series of remarks on the supposedly shady process through which he was asked to resign; and a clear sense of bitterness that the Episcopalian community didn't stand by him. We also get what he basically admits is a groundless and conspiratorial claim that one of the op-eds written against him (by a Yale student) was actually written by ... someone else. Not gonna say who. Could be anyone. But clearly coordinated. Obviously not a genuine response of anguish from a community member feeling a legitimate grievance. Must be a plot.

While he is quite verbose on the subject of the nefarious plot that brought ruin upon him, he's much more ... taciturn ... when it comes to exploring why his views were so offensive. Consider this exchange:
I guess I’m curious …

I do understand.

Because you weren’t responding to some article about civilian deaths in Gaza.

That’s correct.

You were responding to an article about the murdering of innocent Jews in Europe.

That’s correct.

And so it struck me as curious as why would someone respond to the murder of innocent Jews in Europe by talking about Gaza, except to say that in some way …

I had Gaza on my mind.

… Israel brings this upon …

Gaza was on my mind when I wrote it. But clearly it was not dealing with the larger subjects. And I can understand, and your point is well taken. I do understand.
Is it uncharitable of me to think that maybe he doesn't "understand"?

Or compare the interviewer's lengthy explanation of why -- in the opinion of a far-left Jewish friend -- left-wing Protestants tend to be the most likely candidates for anti-Semitem to Rev. Shipman's response:
I’ll say something very frank, because I appreciate your frankness. I once asked a friend of mine who is a Jew very much on the Left, substantially to the Left of me. You know, someone who favors boycott and divestment [from Israel], someone who favors a one-state solution without question, somebody who is, you know, deeply enmeshed in proudly anti-Israel politics.

Is he for one-state solution?

I don’t know, I’m not entirely clear, but he could be. He runs with plenty of people who are. And he’s Jewish. And I said to him, “You spend so much time among anti-Zionists. How can you tell which ones, which minority, are anti-Semites?” And he said, “Well, that’s easy.” He said, “It’s the liberal Protestants. The Jews aren’t anti-Semitic, even if they’re called self-loathing. And the Muslims aren’t anti-Semitic, because they get us.” He said they understand everything about us, as we understand everything about them. He said it’s the well-meaning leftie Protestants. They profess a deep spiritual kinship with Jews, they’ve often lived in the Middle East, they’ve led tours there.

He’s talking about me! [laughs]

He said, “But they fundamentally see Jews as, their image of the contemporary Jew is of a rich, crass, Zionist who distorts American politics and is bad for the idealized Jew whom they love. Whom they may or may not know any of anymore.”

And, I knew exactly what he was talking about. And I’m not saying that’s you. At all. I don’t know you. But I know people like that … And what I sometimes think is, about the philo-Semitic liberal Protestant experience, is that they don’t understand the why the contemporary liberal Jew might be a Zionist. That in their mind the last good Zionist went out sometime around the late 1960s, was a socialist on a kibbutz somewhere, was totally secular, and that they don’t actually get the lived experience of being, say, a religious Jew in Brussels today.

I think there’s a truth that one can deeply love Jews and have loved Jews, but feel that there are no good Jews left. Except the ones that are entirely secular and anti-Zionist. That there are no good Jews left like there once were.

That’s not my experience.
That's not your experience? Remind me why "your experience" is even remotely relevant? Elsewhere he remarks that "Israel just isn’t good for the Jews, I really feel that. Israel at the present time is not good for the Jews." The underlying assumption, of course, is that what Rev. Shipman "really feel[s]" is remotely useful for providing guidance vis-a-vis what's actually good for the Jews. What has Rev. Shipman done to justify substituting his perspective for those of actual Jews? Blithe dismissal in the place of introspection is the story of this article.

Finally, let's conclude with how the interview concludes -- with what Rev. Shipman hopes "comes out of" this experience:
How are you feeling now? Are you angry?

No. I’m really not. You know, I’m adjusting to a different life. I’ve reconnected with some old friends and made some new ones. I object to being labeled an anti-Semite, which I was in the local paper [the New London Day, in a letter to the editor]. But I really do want to see something come out of this, in the form of an endowment at Yale for the study of the Nakba and the Palestinian diaspora. Where refugees went, their stories, their present conditions.

I bet if you raised $5 million they would take it. How rich are you?

Well, it’s not just me, but I’m hoping to interest a sheik in the Gulf.

Have you been in touch with sheiks in the Gulf?

Well, I expect to be; I hope to be.

How does one do that?

This is new for me. I have a good friend who has done well, an English friend from my time in England, who has done well in life, and who has been given a seat in the House of Lords, and I think that he would have access to some of the sheiks in the Gulf and could make the case. This would be good public relations. Bring something good out of my experience, and also help to bring better understanding of the Palestinian situation. Some kind of acknowledgment. I think it’s worth pursuing. I think it’s doable.
I have no issue with increased historical awareness of the plight of Palestinian refugees following Israel's War of Independence taught in tandem with similar Jewish dispossession that occurred at the same time throughout the Middle East. In fact, I think they should be taught together (I hesitate to endorse having the course funded by Gulf Sheiks). But why that should be what we hope to get out of this controversy baffles me. Shouldn't we hope that we commit to, I don't know, deeper understanding of Jewish experience, or greater willingness to recognize the validity of Jewish perspectives, or even something as simple as renewed commitment to combating anti-Semitic violence in all of its forms? But no -- the most important thing we should get out of a statement attributing the death of Jews in Europe to the actions of Jews in Israel is that Palestinian history be heard. Shades of Fatima Hajaig, anyone?

1 comment:

Ben said...

I just read the interview at Tablet, and it's actually a great job by Mr. Oppenheimer of basically letting Rev. Shipman expose his own bigotry and stupidity by being somewhat flattering and establishing his issues with Shipman's behavior as mild. A more confrontational discussion with someone like Rev. Shipman would have been viscerally satisfying (and certainly earned by Shipman) but I don't think it would have made him like the complete fool he came across as here. Kudos to Tablet and Oppenheimer here.