The beginnings of the Unity Coalition for Israel (Voices United for Israel)
My late husband, Vrem, even before we were married, had been active as part of the Sonnenborn group before 1948 to secure arms for Israel which enabled Israel to survive after being attacked by 5 Arab countries immediately after the UN recognized Israel as a state. Vrem was a great teacher. He was resourceful, creative and tireless in approaching officials who could support policies that would strengthen ties between the US and Israel. I watched – and learned – from him. He was an inspiration.
Through the years, we had many rewarding experiences as we became increasingly involved in national politics. As a couple, we began by hosting Senator Dole’s first Johnson County event in our back yard, attended by about 500 guests, none of whom had previously met him. By 1968 when he had been elected, we were totally immersed in KS politics and actively participated in every Bob Dole campaign for the Senate and later in his run for vice-President with Gerald Ford at the head of the ticket. After Vrem passed away, I served on Bob Dole’s national finance committee when he ran for President in 1988. We attended the inaugurations of both Presidents Nixon and Reagan together. A decade later, I was privileged to attend the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.
As the “settlements” in Judea and Samaria became a controversial Issue, I was told by many people that if Vrem were still alive he would certainly prevent the “settlements” from becoming a propaganda tool against Israel. An ADL poll taken about that time found that 70% of Americans supported Israel. I knew that only 2% of Americans were Jewish and I decided to look for that other 68%. I didn’t really know many Christians.
I sought out a Christian person who I knew was interested in Israel and we had coffee and discussed Israel. Shortly thereafter, we held a meeting with 20 people on my back porch and as they say the rest is history. Next, we held a breakfast at a local synagogue with 90 people in attendance.
This led to two major meetings: one was held at the Johnson County Community College and the other at UMKC. About 600 attended each event. UCI came to fruition because of the encouragement of some special friends. One of these friends was Steven Emerson, investigative journalist, who had produced the film Jihad in America for PBS. It was aired only once on TV because of pressure from the Arab world. It was never allowed to be shown or sold again. UCI received a grant to distribute this amazing video to all of Congress. But that was 1995 and no one in Congress was aware of the dangers that lay ahead.
After 9/11, we distributed the DVD to help people understand what that attack was all about. Some of our best customers for the video were the IRS, the CIA, the FBI and Homeland Security. Every time they had a meeting at the Bannister Federal Building, they would call and order copies of Emerson’s Jihad in America for distribution. I kept thinking if they are depending on us to enlighten the country, we’re really in trouble!
In 1996, UCI hosted an official meeting in Washington with the first 70 groups of our coalition. We also had press conferences and similar meetings in Jerusalem, Nashville, and Los Angeles. It’s important to note that all of our planning meetings in Washington were held in the the Israeli Embassy of Washington. This lent great credibility to what we were accomplishing as we pulled Jewish and Christian groups together in support of Israel. Avi Grinot was the very first person on the embassy staff to officially reach out to Christians. Another instrumental person was David Bar Ilan who spoke at all of our conferences. When he became director of Policy and Communication for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he called on UCI to host two major events in honor of the prime minister. The first one was attended by 3,000 people and filled two ballrooms at the JW Marriott.
Several months later I got a call from the prime minister’s office, saying that we needed to have another event. The embassy graciously gave us the ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel. As a side note, Prime Minister Netanyahu, being snubbed by the Clinton administration, was forced to stay at the Mayflower rather than at the Blair House where visiting PMs are often invited to stay. Our job was to fill the ballroom and we had to accomplish that in just 9 days’ time. We actually had to turn people away. Our primary aim was to support the Prime Minister at a time when he was being pressured by the Clinton administration. Netanyahu received a rousing reception from the crowd of Christians and Jews. He was so moved that he opened his speech with tears in his eyes. His first words were – “This must have been ordered by God.” He went directly from the hotel to the White House and the next days’ newspapers reported that he confidently stood up to pressure from the Clinton White House.
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A Brief List of Accomplishments
Esther Levens has been appointed by Presidents George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon to serve on three U.S. Presidential Advisory Councils:
- The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council
- National Advisory Council on Vocational Education
- National Advisory Committee on Education of Handicapped Children
As Founder in 1991 and Chief Executive Officer of the Unity Coalition for Israel (UCI), Esther has brought together more than 200 organizations to educate Americans and others about Israel, the Middle East and radical Islam.
This Coalition, representing millions of people, has served as a clearinghouse for information on Israel, its history and culture, and that of the 22 Arab nations surrounding it. She has overseen this broad educational outreach to grassroots America by communicating with the secular and religious media, college campuses, the U.S. Presidential Cabinet, the U.S. Congress, the Israeli Knesset and other government officials.
UCI has held seven major educational conferences in Washington DC featuring experts on the Middle East. They twice hosted Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, during his first term of office, attended by more than 4,500 in Washington DC at the JW Marriott and Mayflower Hotels.
UCI has also sponsored numerous press conferences on Capitol Hill, at the National Press Club, and at the National Religious Broadcasters annual conventions.
UCI has co-sponsored the following:
- The First Jerusalem Summit, an international think-tank in Israel
- The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus
- The International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation (IIACF)
- The Annual Embassy of Israel Solidarity Seminar in Washington, DC
- Kansas City’s “Gathering,” a city-wide, annual, interfaith pro-Israel event.
Esther has also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the following organizations:
- Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)
- National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ)
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC-National Council)
- National Council of Jewish Women
- Johnson County, Kansas Mental Health Center
- Johnson County Community College Foundation, Executive Committee
- Republican Jewish Coalition
- Founder and CEO of the Unity Coalition for Israel, a current position
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