In a dramatic illustration of increasing concerns among Christian leaders about Israeli conduct, the three bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts yesterday joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate in Boston. The bishops, clad in the flowing purple cassocks and pectoral crosses that signify their high church office, held candles and signs with such slogans as ''Christian-Muslim solidarity in the face of Israeli invasion'' and ''Destruction in Bethlehem.'' Although many Catholic and Protestant clergy have previously expressed concern about the plight of Palestinians, Episcopal Bishops M. Thomas Shaw, Barbara C. Harris, and Roy F. Cederholm Jr. are apparently the first local denominational leaders to take their concern from the pulpit to the picket line. The bishops, who lead the largest Episcopal diocese in the country, decided over the weekend that escalating violence in the Mideast in recent days required them to be more public about their concerns. ''Today and every day we stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are suffering violence in West Bank towns occupied by Israeli forces,'' the bishops said in a statement. ''There can be no peace without justice, and the Palestinian people are victims of an injustice that cannot be allowed to continue.'' The bishops joined about 60 protesters, including Jews, Muslims, and other Christians, outside the Park Square consulate. Some of the protesters waved Palestianian flags, while others held posters showing a Palestinian boy dwarfed by an Israeli tank. The group called for Israel to withdraw from West Bank towns and begin peace negotiations, and called for international protection for Palestinians. Israeli troops moved into West Bank towns two weeks ago in an effort to combat terrorism after a Palestinian group killed an Israeli cabinet official. Israel pulled out of two towns, Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, on Sunday. The Israeli consul general to New England, Itzhak Levanon, called yesterday's demonstration ''inappropriate.'' ''I wish these same people would have shown up when the Palestinians have killed innocent Jewish Israeli people, like the day before yesterday,'' he said. ''Palestinian terrorists are killing innocent Israeli civilians, and here are people supporting them.'' Levanon said Israel had no alternative but to move into Palestinian territory because the Palestinian Authority has failed to rein in terrorists. ''We are there to secure the people of Israel and to do the job the Palestinian Authority was supposed to do, which is to control the terrorist organizations,'' he said. ''We have no choice but to do it by ourselves and protect our people. But as soon as the Palestinians will take control of security and arrest terrorists, there will be no reason for Israel to continue to be there.'' The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is known for its liberal politics, particularly in support of equality for women and gays in the church. Shaw, who is the top diocesan official, spent time last year as a congressional intern and is seeking to have the diocese become a more active participant in public policy debates. Asked about the impact of the bishops' appearance on Christian-Jewish relations, Shaw said, ''We are hopeful that this will encourage an even more honest dialogue between Christians and Jews.'' He said the bishops ''feel strongly about justice for Palestinians and Jews alike.'' The Rev. Robert W. Tobin, rector of Christ Church Cambridge and an advisor to the bishops on Christian-Muslim relations, said the bishops have long been concerned about Palestinians, but that the violence in Bethlehem prompted them to take a more public action. Tobin said he believes many Jews will agree with the bishops' concerns. ''I've been working with a lot of Jews,'' he said. ''Today we're talking about government [Israel] that has lost its moral compass. This is not about Jews.'' Among the protesters was Marty Federman, of a Jewish group called Visions for Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine. ''The occupation has to end, because it's totally ethically wrong,'' Federman said. The number of people at the protest was tiny compared to the size of several pro-Israel rallies that have been held in Boston in recent years, and next month 185 local Jews plan to travel to Israel to express their solidarity with Israelis. ''I'm shocked that the Episcopal bishops would be there and make a statement in such a one-sided way, when clearly the people of Israel have such a deep commitment to peace,'' said Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.
Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/31/2001.
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