Proving the value of friendship

If you read the papers, you’d believe that Israel is unsafe, but we bring multi-ethnic groups from all over together, and they find that Israel is in fact a wonderful, vibrant country.

AIFL (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
No matter one’s perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict, everyone agrees that the news from the region is usually negative.
Advocates for both sides recognize the importance of the public relations battle, and covet every ally they can find. One such ally for Israel that has been around for a while has been reasserting its value of late.
The America-Israel Friendship League was founded in 1971 by respected political figures such as US Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Hubert Humphrey. The original aim was “to promote a strong and enduring friendship extending beyond both governments to our nations’ citizens.”
For 40 years, the AIFL has maintained that same focus by portraying Israel in a positive light.
Bridge-building is a key part of its mission, and current chairman Kenneth Bialkin understands the value of networking with friends, especially Christian Zionists.
“Our objective is to make friends for Israel,” said Bialkin, who notes that common values can link people from different cultures.
“The most important issue we all face today is the threat from jihad. The enemies of freedom are the enemies of America, and Israel is the first line of defense.”
Bialkin and his colleagues are building these bridges through a variety of creative and successful programs which raise the profile of America and Israel for visitors from each country.
“We have a very active program for bringing people to Israel,” said Bialkin. These “missions” bring diverse communities together – whether governmental officials from all across America, or groups aimed at simply sharing culture.
“We recently brought in a group of culinary journalists and introduced them to Israeli food,” said Bialkin.
Among the delegates on the culinary trip were popular cookbook author Joan Nathan, Washington D.C.-based restaurant owner Mark Furstenberg, and Leah Koenig, a regular contributor for The New York Times Magazine.
While the AIFL is nonpartisan, it does help provide context for the region’s many complex and volatile issues, such as its report defending Israel over last summer’s Gaza flotilla raid.
Perhaps the most vital AIFL initiative today is its efforts to bring youth together, recognizing that they are the hope for the future. The youth missions introduce Jewish and Israeli teens to their Christian and Muslim counterparts. These efforts are considered “a jewel of a program” by Bialkin and Dr. Charlotte Frank, chairwoman of the AIFL executive committee.
“It’s near and dear to my heart,” explained Dr. Frank, a senior vice president with McGraw-Hill publishers in New York. “If you read the papers, you’d believe that Israel is unsafe, but we bring multi-ethnic groups from all over together, and they find that Israel is in fact a wonderful, vibrant country.”
She notes that the program for youth, styled the Youth Ambassador Student Exchange (YASE), is so successful that an alumni group is forming as original participants are now sending their children.
“When students – whether they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim – visit the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, walk where Jesus walked… they want peace to be achieved,” she asserted.
Built on a commitment to tolerance and respect, the AIFL seeks to bring out the best in humanity, as we search for solutions to xenophobia, mistrust – and jihad as well.
YASE and other initiatives of the America-Israel Friendship League are even tearing down barriers between Jewish and Palestinian youths. The work is long-term and complex, but the result will hopefully advance the two peoples towards peace. As Frank concluded, “After awhile, we are all alike.”
Jim Fletcher is the director of Prophecy Matters (, and a member of the executive committee of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI).