Forging Friendships with "the League"
(AIFL Vet tour at Yad Vashem)
For more than 40 years, during a chain of monumental events in the history of modern Israel and the United States, the America-Israel Friendship League has stood tall as a bridge-builder…helping form strong and lasting relationships between the Jewish state and her main ally.
As an evangelical Christian who supports Israel, I’m struck by the fact that in the midst of “doom and gloom,” whether it is the news about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or a breakdown in talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the AIFL (www.aifl.org) stays the course and looks at the long view. This is especially helpful, even critical, in the group’s efforts to link arms with evangelicals, because—let’s face it, this is my community—sometimes we tend to over-emphasize the more worrisome aspects of Israel’s neighborhood.
And while the AIFL has long been friendly with difference-makers like Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (a leading light in the eventual flight to freedom for Soviet Jews) and the scholar, Joan Peters, it is in the networking with Christians that much fruit has been harvested.
Take the Rev. William Harter. A retired Presbyterian pastor, Bill has been instrumental in opposing the so-called BDS (“Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions”) agenda that seeks to harm Israel economically. The affable-but-tough Harter has known the folks at the AIFL for decades, and is as comfortable with influential chairman Kenneth Bialkin as he is with students who travel to Israel under the auspices of the YASE program (Youth Ambassador Student Exchange).
During a 2012 trip to Israel, Harter noted the importance of opposing efforts to marginalize Israel:
"’We are at present locked into a continuing effort to overcome the BDS movement and all other attempts to delegitimize Israel and Jewish peoplehood, including the 'apartheid' trope and the alleged 'one-state' solution,’ said Rev Dr. William Harter, who lead the group. A member of the AIFL's board of directors, Harter is also a founding member and national secretary-treasurer of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.”
Indeed, the linkage between the AIFL and groups like NCLCI provide Christians with intellectual resources to combat the rise in anti-Semitism, which, incredibly, is affecting even the American evangelical community.
The YASE program is vital, for it informs students about the realities Israel faces and again, partnering with Christians in groups and as individuals is paying emotional dividends for the AIFL. Take the experience of two students from Bethany (Oklahoma City) High School, Kaylee Powell and Hayley Graft. The former was impressed with what she saw in Israel:
“They have a lot of patriotism, and are a young country.”
Graft was impacted by the generational bond between Israelis:
“Their grandparents fought for it and now the members of the Israel Defense Forces continue to fight for their country and build the state.”
Such images and interactions form the cement from which the AIFL has built an impressive structure that promises to weather storms that buffet Israel and America.
The AIFL also takes educators to Israel, and Jack Moles (superintendent for Johnson County Central Public Schools, in Nebraska) returned home from his trip with enthusiasm that won’t subside. He recounts his experiences, both from an historical perspective, and as an administrator:
“I was making a presentation to a class about the Bible Lands, and showed them bowls found in Syria dating 8,500 years; cuneiform 5,000 years old. I had taught that as a teacher, but until I saw it and put it into context...three of the pieces we saw were pictured in textbooks I taught from!”
The visits to Israeli schools also captured Moles’ attention:
“We visited schools at Jerusalem’s Dror School. It is run by a group called the Society for Advancement in Education,” Moles remembers. “It was an impressive thing to me that they had 260 kids in school, but they take kids who have great ability, but who have struggled.” He added that this visit was especially impactful because “A large part of it is the small school setting, which is what I’m in.”
With tensions high in the Middle East (only a pollyanna would pretend that the immediate future doesn’t hold profound challenges for Israel), it is incumbent upon Israel’s friends to surround her with unfailing support. And again, it can’t be emphasized enough that too many Christians in America today despair about those challenges.
Which is precisely why they should take a cue from a group that has been in the advocacy wars for Israel for a very long time and is now humming along, bursting with new ideas and energy. That’s what the America-Israel Friendship League has built, and is building.
That can only be good for freedom-loving people everywhere.