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The Yale Chaplain Who Doesn’t Get Jews

If Jews make Israeli policy, do Wasps run England?

Mark Oppenheimer
August 28, 2014
Queen Elizabeth II on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Father Bruce, could you get a message to the Queen for me?

I know you can. For on Monday, The New York Times ran a letter to the editor by you, Father Bruce M. Shipman, Yale’s chaplain to Episcopal students, in response to an Aug. 21 op-ed about rising anti-Semitism. The op-ed, by Tablet contributor Deborah E. Lipstadt, focused on the troubling incidence of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe—to which you replied:

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.

On first reading this letter, sitting at my breakfast table, I, like many intelligent people, was troubled by the sheer illiberalism of your thinking. Your reasoning gives license to all sorts of stereotyping, racism, and prejudice. By your reasoning, why wouldn’t one write, “The best antidote to stop-and-frisk policing would be for black men everywhere to press other black men to stop shooting each other”? Why wouldn’t one write—perhaps after a Muslim was beaten up by white-supremacist thugs—“The best antidote to Islamophobia would be for radical Islam’s patrons abroad to press ISIS and Al Qaeda to just cut it out”?

But after cogitating on your letter more, and reading some of the commentary that followed in its wake, I had further questions. For example, who exactly are “Israel’s patrons”? Surely you mean Jews. Are all Jews “Israel’s patrons”?

This assumption of guilt by consanguinity got me wondering if Japanese Americans were responsible for Pearl Harbor—many intelligent Americans, including the president, thought so at the time. He was convinced enough to imprison American citizens in their own country.

And perhaps Irish-Americans were responsible for the blood spilt by the Irish Republican Army—why, we know that some of the IRA’s funding indeed came from Irish Americans.

And despite what John F. Kennedy pled during his presidential run, we have strong reason to believe that Catholics take orders from the Pope. Don’t we?

And then we arrive at you, an Episcopal priest, and thus a subordinate of Queen Elizabeth II, who is not only head of state of England but also the supreme governor of the Church of England, whose worldwide communion you yourself, as an Episcopal priest, belong to and serve at the pleasure of. She appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is something like your pope. So it seems that you are doubly implicated in Brits’ decisions. First, you are (I presume) of English ancestry—and we know what it means to be of Jewish ancestry, that one is a “patron” of Israel, and can influence Israeli policy. And, second, you are a clergyperson who works for the church led by Her Royal Highness.

So let’s make a deal. Next time an innocent Jewish man or woman is shot in Brussels, rather than complain about anti-Semites, I will ring up Prime Minister Netanyahu and complain about his war policy. And next time 1,400 children are abducted, beaten, raped, and sex-trafficked in England, rather than decry sex-trafficking and child-rape, I will demand that you ring up the Queen.


(UPDATE: I did not mean to imply that the Queen or the Archbishop of Canterbury can actually fire an Episcopal priest in America, which, as two readers noted, is administratively separate. Rather, the worldwide Anglican communion “find[s] a focus of unity” in the Archbishop of Canterbury. This makes no difference to my argument, but one doesn’t want to be fuzzy about Anglican church polity, or one will be doused with a tumbler of Boodles gin.)

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Mark Oppenheimer is a Senior Editor at Tablet. He hosts the podcast Unorthodox. He has contributed to Slate and Mother Jones, among many other publications. He is the author, most recently, of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood. He will be hosting a discussion forum about this article on his newsletter, where you can subscribe for free and submit comments.