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The following article, written by Unity Coalition President and Founder, Esther Levens, first published in the current issue of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, June 19, 2009.
"Change" That Seems More Like "History Repeating Itself"
Kansas City, Missouri - June 22, 2009
There is renewed interest in Benjamin Netanyahu`s first term as Prime Minister of Israel during the late 1990s, as many seek indications of how he will react during his current term in office. The following are personal recollections of two significant events when I was honored to host the Prime Minister.
Similarly difficult circumstances prevailed in those days, and, then as now, he was under great pressure from the United States. However, as forceful as was the pressure from President Bill Clinton, Netanyahu is in an even more vulnerable position now, with the new U.S. administration determined to establish a two-state solution immediately.
During "Bibi’s" first term as prime minister, I was fortunate to have some “insider” knowledge of what was transpiring. It was fascinating how it evolved. It began when I was asked by my mentor and close friend, David Bar-Illan, the former editor of the Jerusalem Post who was then Director of Policy and Communication for Netanyahu, to feature the prime minister at an event hosted by the Unity Coalition for Israel on April 7, 1997, in Washington DC. It was attended by about 3,000 people, both Christians and Jews, who filled two ballrooms at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. The event was called “Israel at the Crossroads – How Can We Work Together?” Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas was master of ceremonies, and Netanyahu delivered an inspiring speech before the enthusiastic crowd.
As a result of the success of that event, David Bar-Ilan called me in January 1998 and asked that I host a similar event, this time at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. He said he would provide the ballroom if I would organize it. Only this time it had to be accomplished in just nine days. Apparently, it was timed to take place just before Netanyahu was to meet with President Bill Clinton on January 22, 1998. Bar-Illan felt that a very supportive group would bring public attention to Israel’s concerns and give encouragement to the prime minister at a difficult time.
Netanyahu had not been invited to stay at Blair House, as heads of state normally were. Instead, he and his entourage occupied the l0th floor of the Mayflower. It appeared he was being snubbed by the White House.
At our Mayflower meeting, Netanyahu was greeted by 1,500 cheering admirers, who spontaneously rose to their feet and began to loudly chant, “Not one inch! Not one inch!” When Bibi spoke, he was so touched that he had tears in his eyes, saying, ”This must have been ordered by G-d.” It was, to say the least, a very emotional experience.
My friend Kay Arthur co-chaired the event with me. She is the author of over 100 books, including “Israel, My Beloved,” and founder of Precept Ministries that has study groups in more than 7,000 churches. She hosts “Precepts for Life,” a radio and television program that reaches a worldwide viewing audience of over 94 million. Also in attendance were many leaders of the Christian and Jewish communities, including the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dore Gold; activist Charles Jacobs; Lenny Ben-David, Counselor for Political Affairs, Embassy of Israel; Janet Parshall, a lawyer and daily talk show host for Salem Broadcasting Network; Elwood McQuaid and Bill Sutter, directors of Friends of Israel; Jerry Falwell, the noted Christian TV personality; Susan Michael, U.S. director of the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem; George Will, the syndicated columnist; JoAnn Magnuson, interfaith relations director for Bridges for Peace; and many others. The day after the Mayflower meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu went to the White House to meet with President Clinton, definitely buoyed by the rousing reception he had just received.
One can only wonder if there wouldn’t be an even larger and more supportive crowd today to greet Netanyahu in the U.S., lending him encouragement and cheering him on. Fortunately, the sizable Christian and Jewish Zionist communities remain staunchly supportive. They share his view of maintaining a strong Israel as the only means of survival. As his country faces a nuclear threat from Iran and is surrounded by anti-American and anti-Israel Arab countries, mostly proponents of radical Islam, he will need all the support here in the U.S. that we can muster.
There were many memorable incidents surrounding the two events that we held. Those were interesting times when there was so much tension on the world scene. Who could predict that today conditions would be far worse!
Esther Levens of Prairie Village, Kan., founded the Unity Coalition for Israel in 1991. She remains its CEO. The coalition brings together Jewish and Christian groups in support of Israel; thus its original name: Voices United for Israel.