The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was founded by Quakers in 1917 “to provide young Quakers and other conscientious objectors an opportunity to serve those in need instead of fighting during World War I.” AFSC is “committed to the principles of nonviolence and justice” in the face of any and all external threats, confident that “the transforming power of love, human and divine” will ultimately cause aggressors to lay down their weapons and permit peaceful reconciliation to prevail. Following what it calls “the radical thrust of the early Christian witness,” AFSC members affirm that they “regard no person as our enemy.”
The AFSC worldview is founded on the belief that evil does not exist within individuals, who are endowed only with goodness by their divine Creator; that evil exists only outside of the individual, in societal institutions which often cause people to do terrible things that are inconsistent with their inherent goodness. Thus AFSC “seek[s] to understand and address the root causes of poverty, injustice, and war … [and] to confront, nonviolently, powerful institutions of violence, evil, oppression, and injustice.” According to AFSC, the chief exploiter of other nations, and consequently the primary agent of evil on earth, is the United States.
AFSC has actively assisted Communist nations in their quests to achieve economic prosperity. In the 1920’s the organization sent Jessica Smith to Russia to “determine famine relief needs.” A Communist herself, Smith was married to Harold Ware, a Communist cell leader in Washington, D.C. (After Ware’s death in 1935, Smith married John Abt, General Counsel to the Communist Party USA and a member of CPUSA’s political committee beginning in the 1950s.) As AFSC author Ruth Anna Brown explains, “We have helped, or are helping, Communist countries reach the amount of economic growth and development necessary for them to allow a degree of relaxed domestic control.”
Quaker author Jerry Frost recalls that in the 1930s “the AFSC refused publicly to criticize the Soviet Union because building up cultural and personal contacts seemed the only way open to defuse hostilities.” In the eyes of AFSC, the real threat to world stability at that time (and after) was the United States.
In the 1970s John McAuliffe, who then headed AFSC’s Indochina program, initially characterized the news of Cambodian massacres under Pol Pot as an American “misinformation campaign,” and lauded the Pol Pot regime as “the example of an alternative model of development and social organization.” AFSC also distributed a printed defense of the Khmer Rouge well after the genocide in Cambodia had been exposed. At that time McAuliffe said “all reliable sources indicate that the [Marxist] Vietnamese are carrying out the task of reconstruction with extraordinary humaneness.” When McAuliffe and AFSC finally recognized the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime, they placed the blame squarely on the United States.
In Target America — James L. Tyson’s 1981 expose of the Soviet Union’s massive “propaganda campaign designed to weaken and demoralize America from the inside” — the author stated:
“The American Friends Service Committee also came out openly against the CIA and FBI during this period. In 1976 it organized a Task Force on Government Surveillance and Citizens’ Rights, under Spencer Coxe [the ACLU’s Executive Director in Pennsylvania]. In 1976 and 1977 this task force produced a mass of material on FBI, CIA, and local police ‘repression.’ In April 1976 the AFSC issued a report authorized by its board of directors saying, ‘The AFSC unhesitatingly adds its voice to those who say the CIA and the Internal Security Division of the FBI must be abolished.”
In recent decades AFSC has agitated for the unilateral disarmament of the United States. Terry Provence, Director of AFSC’s 1970s-era Disarmament Program, was a founding member of the U.S. Peace Council and a member of the Soviet-oriented World Peace Council. Along with fellow Communists Nico Schouten and Walter Rumpel, he led the 1979 “Mobilization For Survival” rally in Washington. A recent pamphlet distributed by AFSC says that the “solution” to international strife is “to disarm America and have it withdraw economically and militarily from the globe.” Today AFSC is a member organization of the Abolition 2000, Win Without War, and United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalitions.
AFSC, which has formed an alliance with the radical group MECha, strongly opposes laws that would apprehend and punish illegal immigrants in the United States. It has denounced Operation Gatekeeper, a government initiative implemented in October 1994 with the aim of securing — by means of increased border patrol agents, fencing, lighting, and underground sensors — the San Diego border with Mexico, which was then the busiest illegal alien crossing point in America. AFSC views such measures as “brutal” affronts to the human dignity of “undocumented” immigrants.
In March 2005 AFSC complained that “the U.S. denies immigrant workers the most fundamental labor rights,” and called for the protection of “the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of legal immigration status.” AFSC has posted on its website a detailed list of strategies for illegal aliens to use in the event that they are interrogated, detained, or arrested by immigration authorities or police. The organization advises that such individuals “not answer questions” about their birthplace or legal status; “refuse to allow immigration authorities or police to enter your house without a search warrant”; “ask for and receive a list of agencies who provide free or low cost legal immigration services”; and “appeal [any unfavorable] decision of the judge in front of a higher court, saying you don’t accept the decision.”
AFSC was a signatory to a November 1, 2001 document characterizing the 9/11 attacks as a legal matter to be addressed by criminal-justice procedures rather than military means. Ascribing the hijackers’ motives to alleged social injustices against which they were protesting, this document called on the United States “to promote fundamental rights around the world.”
AFSC was also a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress “to oppose … ‘Patriot [Act] II'” on grounds that it “contain[ed] a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers … that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights.” In addition, AFSC has given its organizational endorsement to the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign, which tries to influence city councils to pass resolutions of non-compliance with the provisions of the Patriot Act.
AFSC opposes Israel’s construction of an anti-terrorism security fence, which it depicts as an illegal “apartheid wall” that violates the civil and human rights of Palestinians. AFSC has been a leader in promoting the U.S. speaking engagements of Israeli “refuseniks,” or conscientious objectors, who refuse to serve in the Israeli Defense Force on grounds of Israel’s alleged oppression of Palestinians. One notable refusenik whose lecture tours have been sponsored by AFSC is Noam Bahat.
In 2006 AFSC nominated Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions founder Jeff Halper and International Solidarity Movement co-founder Ghassan Andoni for the Nobel Peace Prize — for their work “to liberate both the Palestinian and the Israeli people from the yoke of structural violence” and “to build equality between their people by recognizing and celebrating their common humanity.”
Another AFSC priority is to help turn public opinion against capital punishment. “We’re working to get doubts into the public consciousness,” says AFSC, “so those eligible for jury duty in capital cases will understand that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.”
AFSC has close ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and has sponsored numerous events focusing on post-9/11 “anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S.” and the purportedly rising tide of “Islamophobia.”
The General Secretary of AFSC, responsible for the administration of the organization’s U.S. and international programs, is Mary Ellen McNish. McNish previously worked for numerous other non-profit organizations, including the YWCA and Planned Parenthood.
AFSC has received grants from the Blue Moon Fund, the Columbia Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among numerous others.
In 1947 AFSC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.