Heather Johnston and Gen. Charles Krulak of Birmingham, along with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and Ari Sacher at a recent event in Israel
Pair an easy-going, quick to make a joke Orthodox Jew with a fiery and tenacious Christian Zionist and what do you get? A powerful combination of expertise, talents and personalities — and two Biblically-inspired soulmates who share what one of them describes as “a burning love of Israel.”
Meet Ari Sacher, who lived in America and Canada before immigrating to Israel in 1982, and Heather Johnston, of Birmingham, who the US-Israel Education Association, an organization that is winning friends and influencing people on behalf of Israel in a way that’s never been done before.
Sacher is no ordinary guy. An architect of Israel’s famed Iron Dome missile defense system, he’s a rocket scientist turned educator, who specializes in simplifying complicated weapons concepts for U.S. Members of Congress whose decisions affect the well-being of Israel.
Johnston is a Biblically-driven Christian determined to bless Israel (Genesis 12:3), and who through her leadership of USIEA has become connected to the elite of the Israeli government and America’s top Middle East policy-makers.
The group she heads as founder and executive director specializes in fact-finding trips to Judea and Samaria (also known as the “West Bank”) to help participants better understand the Biblical and modern history of the region, its strategic importance to Israel, and the challenges that the 500,000 Israelis living in Judea and Samaria face daily.
Many groups shy away from visiting these territories, fearing political repercussions because most of the international community doesn’t recognize Israeli rule over Judea and Samaria. However, Johnston has found that such visits significantly deepen congressional understanding of Israel’s needs.
It is on one of these trips several years ago that Sacher met Johnston at a briefing he gave to her group. The two of them clicked and recognized they were Zionist soulmates who shared a vision of the importance of educating U.S. influentials about Israel’s unique security challenges. They joined forces as Sacher began mixing his work for the Israel defense industries behemoth Rafael with doing briefings for USIEA.
In May, Sacher will begin officially dividing his time between Rafael, where he will continue to work as both an engineer and spokesman, and Johnston’s group, where he holds the position of Director of Education.
Sacher is no stranger to Alabama. His defense systems work over the years has brought him to Huntsville many times in connection with U.S.-Israel joint projects.
Through Johnston’s work and the work of a sister organization she heads, JH Israel, which has ties to the Israeli city of Ariel, she has become a well-known Christian Zionist.
She quotes from the Hebrew Bible extensively, as she did at a recent briefing she and Sacher gave in Birmingham. She inspires audiences with passages that accurately forecast the return of Jews to the land of Israel and command gentiles to stand arm in arm with the Jewish people as they reclaim the holy land that God has bequeathed to them.
During his Birmingham visit, Sacher was asked if he ever feels out of place as an Orthodox Jew working for USIEA, an organization conceived of, shaped and driven by Christians?
“No,” he responded immediately. “I have been working with pro-Israel Christian groups since 2011, including Heather’s. There is much that we have in common. For the purposes of what we do regarding Israel, the religious beliefs that we don’t share are irrelevant.”
Adds Sacher, “What binds us are the values, visions and voices of the Old Testament — things that inspire Jews and Christians. Inherent in these is a burning love of Israel.”
Is Israel Losing Its Deterrence?
Interviewed in Birmingham a few days before the beginning of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, Ari Sacher’s love for Israel burned brightly.
The Israeli weapons engineer grew up in the US and Canada and made Aliyah to Israel in 1982 right after high school. Aliyah is a Hebrew word that means ascent. The phrase “made Aliyah” refers to a Jew immigrating — or ascending — to Israel.
Sacher received his BSc and MSc in Electrical Engineering at the Technion, which is considered “Israel’s MIT.”
Now 55 and the father of eight, he believes deeply in the right of Jews to control their destiny in their own land and worries, among other things, that Israel is losing its power of deterrence, by not responding more decisively to the Iranian-backed terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
“We in Israel are getting very close to irreversibly losing our deterrence, because a country that has deterrence does not suffer balloon and kite attacks and 469 rockets fired in the course of two days,” he explains. Referring to Hamas, which is based in the Gaza Strip adjacent to southern Israel, Sacher adds that this indiscriminate and brutal violence “is not the response of an organization that is deterred.”
“We restore our deterrence by impressing upon the enemy that it is not worth his while to use force against us; we must make him rue the day that he attacked us.”
Sacher also bristles at criticism from Americans who think Israel’s actions against its enemies are too harsh. He says that though there are periodic acts of violence in America, they pale in comparison to the security pressures Israel faces every day.
“Our reality is different than the American reality. There are some Americans who just can’t get their heads around the fact that we in Israel live in life and death situations on a daily basis,” he explains. “In the U.S. you may have a periodic active shooter. But our reality is different; there is a question mark over my life 24 hours a day.”
Sacher also worries about growing anti-Israel sentiment from the political left, both in the U.S. and Europe. “I believe that people who are further to the left do not have a pro-Israel feeling, and I believe that Israel should prepare itself for the possibility one day of a U.S. government that is not as pro-Israel as we have seen before,” he worries.
“I believe that more difficult times are coming. I would like to be more optimistic but I am not. Yes, I have never seen an administration more pro-Israel than the current Trump administration and I pray that this level of support for Israel continues,” he says. “But, as Israelis, we must prepare for the day when the U.S. administration won’t be as supportive. In Israel, we are developing relationships with other countries but no other country can replace the U.S. when it comes to influence and support.”
In a final comment that for many captures the essence of Israel, Sacher adds, “We in Israel, more than any other nation in the world, live with a Sword of Damocles over our heads. Yet, we thrive in spite of it, and perhaps because of it.”