The purpose of this delegation for the last 14 years has been to the influence the decision made in the summer of 2004 by Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) at its General Assembly to divest itself from Israel over a period of 6 years.
However, under the leadership Rev. William Harter AIFL board member, longstanding friend of Israel and Pastor Emeritus, Falling Spring Presbyterian Church and avid educator and supporter of his community the AIFL has successfully sponsored delegations of future church clergy and lay leaders . These leaders have shared their experience with their respective communities over the years which has resulted in delays in and modification of church decisions regarding divesting of Israeli companies, a broader understanding of the Middle East conflict and growing support of Israel’s right to exist and defend its citizens while encouraging church elders to revisit some of its old ideologies and members to embark individual paths of enlightenment.
The delegation for 2018 was conducted after two years of denominational introspection in the aftermath of 2016’s General Assembly which has led to church membership decline of almost 68,000. Eleven clergy and lay leaders traveled to Israel for seven days on a fact finding mission which included educational briefings with Israeli Jewish and Arab and Palestinian representatives, like Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian journalist. Site visits to NGOs including Save A Childs Heart, traditional religious tours in the Old City and Galilee, and roundtable discussions on government policy and Jewish-Christian relations in the West Bank were also featured in the group’s program.
There were numerous highlights for each participant; many were moved by the candid and openly honest comments made by various speakers. The unexpected and wonderful hospitality they experienced being hosted for Shabbat dinner at the home of Rabbi Ian and Rachel Pear, son-in law and daughter of AIFL Leadership Delegations Committee Chair, Hon. Robert Abrams was quite a thrill for the group. Others were touched by the religious and historical components of the program, and astonished by the ability of Israeli society to preserve the history and yet be so modern. The visit to religious sites in the north of the country via the Jordan Valley such as Capernaum and the Sea Of Galilee was one of many such occasions where this was brought to the forefront.
Participants returned home better equipped to educate their constituents and steer the conversation and rhetoric at General Assembly to a fact based repertoire gained through their personal experience.