Special Focus Organizations - excerpt from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, 1986

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This page is an extract, reproduced with permission, from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. [1]

The American Jewish Yearbook lists hundreds of organizations that engage in one form or another of Israeli support work but do not fit neatly under the categories of Zionist, community, funding, or lobby. While time and space limitations do not allow an examination of all such organizations, some stand out because of their particular target or focus, or because of their political extremism, and the consequent organizational priority given to pro-Israel work.

In the first category are the America-Israel Friendship League (which targets non-Jewish Americans), the Youth Institute for Peace in the Middle East (youth), and the National Committee for Labor Israel and the American Trade Union Council for Histadrut (labor). In the second category are Americans for a Safe Israel and the Nadonal Council for Young Israel, which are very different organizationally but share a hawkish political view that is reflected in their programs. Each is representative of a certain trend or focus among American Jewry.

America-Israel Friendship League

  • Year established: 1971
  • President: Herbert Tenzer
  • Executive Director: Ilana Artman
  • Address: 134 East 39th Street, New York, NY 10016
  • Publications: News Bulletins

Role and Structure

Like other friendship organizations, the aim of the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) is to enhance relations between the United States and Israel, especially on a person-to-person basis. It describes itself as ‘representatives of a community of Americans with differing interests and beliefs who share in their recognition of the common interests and values of the peoples of the United States and the peoples of the State of Israel.’ [2]

The AIFL is unique among special interest pro-Israel groups in that most of its outreach and programs are sponsored by and aimed at the non-Jewish community. It has developed a roster of sponsoring politicians and prominent personalities of various races and creeds whose names read like a political ‘Who's Who’ list.*

Honorary Sponsors include: Hon. Robert Abrams, Hon. Birch Bayh, Hon. Abraham Beame, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, Hon. Hugh Carey, the late Sen. Frank Church, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, Hon. Robert F. Drinan, Max M. Fisher, Hon. Gerald Ford, Hon. Arthur J. Goldberg, Sen. Gary Hart, Sen. Ernest Hollings, Sen. Henry Jackson, Mrs. Charlotte Jacobson, Hon. Jacob Javits, 1. L. Kenen, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Lane Kirkland, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Hon. Phillip Klutznick, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, Hon. Arthur Markewich, Rabbi Israel Miller, Sen. Daniel Moynihan, Hon. Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., Sen. Robert Packwood, Hon. Ogden Reid, Rep. Peter Rodino, Samuel Rothberg, Bayard Rustin, Jacob Stein, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Mrs. Bernice Tannenbaum, Sen Lowell Weicker, Jr., Jack D. Weiler, and Elie Wiesel.

In September 1983, a fundraising letter went out under the names of Senators Daniel Moynihan and Robert Packwood. Stressing the threat posed by anti-Israel forces in the U.S. and reiterating the moral and strategic links between the United States and Israel, the letter urged readers to support AIFL financially. In Minnesota, the same text went out with a cover letter endorsing the appeal by State Attorney General Hubert. H. Humphrey, III, written on stationery with the state seal. The Humphrey letter noted that ‘we ourselves are not Israeli, but our self-interest is compatible with Israeli interests.... ‘ [3] (Humphrey's father was a founding member of AIFL; the son has also published a guest column in AIFL's newsletter.) Such fundraising letters appear to be quite successful for AIFL, which is a tax-exempt organization. According to its IRS 990 report, in 1982 the AIFL received a total of $580,000 in direct public support. Of this, approximately $40,000 went for management, $120,000 for fundraising, and $397,000 (or 68 percent) for programs. Also included in its report were donations to ALPAC (which is not tax-exempt) and to the Jerusalem Quarterly (a Jerusalem-based publication).

Israel Support Work

Project Interchange. This national program, established in 1982, is based in Washington, D.C. Its major role is to arrange American delegations to Israel for ‘the new generation of U.S. opinion leaders and policy makers.... ‘ The visits involve a ten-day seminar in Israel and meetings with top specialists. The national advisory board for Project Interchange includes Theodore Bikel, Senator Rudy Boschwitz, Senator Alan Cranston, Stuart Eizenstat, former president Gerald Ford, LL. (-Si) Kenen, Lane Kirkland, Dan Rather, and George Will, among others.

In 1983 delegations were organized for congressional aides and for Hispanic American leaders. The Hispanic delegation included the legislative director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Susan Herrera and the special assistant to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee Len Rose-Avila. Pointing out that Hispanics are expected to be the largest minority within the United States, an AIFL director noted the value of the program

‘It is very important that the leaders of the community have a first-hand experience of Israel as they move into public policy-making positions. Furthermore, we all have a great deal in common. Israel is grappling with many of the same social problems facing the Hispanic community in the U.S. Secondly, American Jews have faced similar dilemmas now facing Hispanics. Increased dialogue and cooperation between the two communities can only benefit both.' [4]

National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI)

AIFL participated in establishing the NCLCI and still contributes to its financial support. AIFL writes of the NCLCI

‘This coalition of 25,000 clergy and laity in 20 states and regional groups is a network which responds quickly to the needs of the moment. During the Lebanese War, the NCLCI took a group of 55 Christian leaders to Israel on a fact finding tour and placed an ad of Christian solidarity with Israel in the New York Times and other major U.S. papers.’ [5]

In addition, AIFL arranges clergy study tours of Israel for diocese educators, clergy, and senior divinity students. (These have been cosponsored by institutions such as Seton Hall University in New Jersey.)


This is the AIFL's U.S.-Israel high school student exchange program. It was begun in 1978 with the cooperation of the U.S. Office of Education, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture. Since its inception, over seven hundred Israeli and American students have participated in exchange visits. In addition, the program sponsors education forums on Israel in schools throughout the United States, again with government cooperation. The Council of the Great City Schools, representing thirty-two major urban school districts, has also endorsed an AIFL publication entitled ‘Israel and the USA: A Comparison of Two Allies,’ which is distributed free of charge to schools and elsewhere.

People-to-People. This is another exchange program, involving writers, community leaders, performing arts groups, athletes, and young scientists. It is coordinated with the international Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem, the AIFL's international affiliate, and with government ministries, municipalities, kibbutzim, and cultural programs in Israel. Music groups have included the Horace Mann High School Glee Club, the Fredonia (NY) College Chamber Singers, and the Concord Choral of New Hampshire. (Costs to the AIFL for the last two were $31,740 and $55,366, respectively.) The program now travels the other direction as well, with AIFL sponsoring U.S. tours for Israeli arts groups.

The AIFL sponsors Israeli speakers for church, community, and civic groups, and publishes pamphlets such as ‘The Birth of Two Nations: An Historical Account of a Nation Born and a People Reborn’ (which compares the history of the United States and Israel). It also reprints and distributes other material, including several thousand copies of Martin Peretz's New Republic article, ‘Misreporting Lebanon.’


  1. This page is reproduced by permission of the Institute of Palestine Studies, granted on 25 February 2014. The Institute retains copyright of all material.
  2. Promotional letter, September 1983
  3. ADC Reports, January-February 1984
  4. AIFL, News 311 (Summer 1983):3
  5. September 1983 letter, supm