Episcopal chief to again protest Israeli actions  (Boston Globe14 July 2006)


Boston Globe

 By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff  |  July 12, 2006

 Bishop M. Thomas Shaw  of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, who five years ago jolted local Christian-Jewish relations by joining a pro-Palestinian demonstration in front of the Israeli Consulate in Boston,  plans to reprise his performance today with another protest at the same location.

 Saying that his Christian faith does not allow him to remain silent in the face of Israel's incursions into Gaza, Shaw said he feels a moral obligation to call attention to the  plight of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, and especially to an Episcopal hospital in Gaza, Al Ahli Arab,  that he said is operating on a generator and is days from running out of electricity to care for its patients. 

``I want to draw as much attention to the situation as I possibly can, because I'm concerned about what's happening there," Shaw said yesterday, explaining his decision to join the protest, which is organized by groups supportive of Palestinian rights and critical of Israeli conduct. 

``The message I want to send is that I really encourage the Israeli consulate to communicate to the Israeli government and the Israeli military how critical it is for them to immediately withdraw from the Gaza and to do whatever they can, in a humanitarian way, to take care of the 700,000 people who are without any kind of electricity and to provide the necessary fuel, so that medical care can continue to happen and children can be taken care of." 

The Israeli consul general, interviewed by phone yesterday, objected to the planned protest.  ``It's a basic manifestation of ignorance, and maybe something more than that,"  the consul general, Meir Shlomo,  said of the protest. 

``Nobody bothered to put on a demonstration when in the last six months they launched rockets on Israel with the sheer intention to kill as many civilians as possible." 

Israel says it launched its offensive in Gaza in an effort to rescue a kidnapped soldier and to make it harder for Palestinians to launch rockets against Israel. Electricity in much of Gaza was cut off after an Israeli airstrike hit a power station. 

The Jewish community is planning  a counter-demonstration today, said Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. Kaufman said Shaw's concerns ``are not a reason to demonstrate." 

``They're a reason for us to have a meeting and to talk to the Israeli consul general," she said. 

``I am sorry he feels he needs to express himself in this way, when there are other ways he could express himself," Kaufman  said. ``A student has been murdered, a soldier has been kidnapped,  rockets have been fired, and we've heard nothing." 

Shaw has been among the most outspoken and active of local Christian leaders expressing concerns about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Palestinian people. He has traveled to the Middle East eight or nine times in the last four years. He  has also attempted to build bridges to the Jewish community, in particular by speaking out last year against proposals in several Protestant denominations, including the  Episcopal Church, to divest church funds from certain corporations doing business with Israel. 

Shaw said that he is praying for the safety and release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier and that he has repeatedly condemned Palestinian terrorism. 

``I'm deeply concerned about Jewish-Christian relations, and we've had some significant success in working together as faith communities on various issues and will continue to do that in the future," said Shaw, who leads an estimated 77,000 Episcopalians in Eastern Massachusetts. 

However, he added, ``I think that I would be dishonest in any kind of relationship with the Jewish community, and our work would be less effective no matter what the topic, if I wasn't honest and forthright about this situation." 

Shaw's decision to protest in front of the consulate in October 2001 shocked and angered the local Jewish community, which had been largely unaware of the depth of Protestant concern about Israeli government conduct. 

Since then, local Jewish and Christian leaders have been meeting annually to discuss their deep disagreements over Middle East politics, and both sides say the conversations have been helpful. But Shaw said there remains so much in dispute that the Episcopal Church and Jewish leaders recently had to cancel a planned joint trip to the region because they could not even agree on  whom to meet with in the region. 

This time, Shaw is taking steps to minimize the inflammatory nature of his action. He said he was notifying key Jewish leaders in advance of his intention to protest, sending a letter to the state's congressional  delegation, and notifying all Episcopal clergy in his diocese. 

He also declined to sign a joint statement with the protest's sponsors, who are accusing Israel of war crimes. 

The protest is being organized by a coalition of groups highly critical of the Israeli government, including some Jewish groups, as well as other organizations. 

``We wanted to do something that is dramatic, something that would bring to the public consciousness that there is a very catastrophic humanitarian situation that's developing," said Sherif Fam,  a retired business consultant who is helping to organize the protest as a member of the steering committee of the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights. ``Something has to be done."

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