Commentary Magazine


AIPAC Conference: Howard Kohr

Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, got the proceedings off to a start. When policy is “cloudy,” he begins, “We must be the ones who seek to provide the clarity and direction.” First and foremost: “America must lead the world in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.” Nothing, he says, must “detract, distract, or derail” us. As for the Middle East, the relationship does not rest on resolving the Palestinian conflict. It is “insidious” and it is “wrong.” He continues with a pitch for U.S. aid to Israel as part of our own national security. The U.S. and Israel should treat each other as friends: it is “time to put aside the past week and pledge to solve problems together,” he implores. When disagreements inevitably arise, they “should be resolved privately as is befitting close allies.” Every Israeli prime minister, including Netanyahu, has extended the hand of peace; what is missing is a willing partner on the other side. “Direct talks today.” Finally, “Jerusalem is not a settlement.” The crowd erupts in a standing ovation. Kohr continues: “We will maintain our focus on Iran as the No. 1 item on our agenda.” He adds that the Palestinian conflict continues in a larger context.

Recalling his speech last year in which he addressed the international campaign to delegitimize Israel, Kohr says: “What he heard then and what we hear now is a war of words against Israel … to make it more vulnerable. … In the twelve months since we started that conversation, the attacks have continued.” He reviews the UN record of Israel-bashing and on the Goldstone Report. The latter, he says, “is something far more sinister; it is representative of a broader pernicious effort to challenge Israel’s fundamental right to self-defense. … It must be fought — and it must be stopped.”

Kohr calls for Israel and its supporters to “go on the offense,” suggesting four steps: (1) recognizing Israel’s economic miracle by granting Israel membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“the world’s economic elite”); (2) recognizing Israel’s role as a contributor to peace and security by working to “forge an even closer relationship” with NATO; (3) ending “discrimination toward Israel in the United Nations” by granting Israel a seat on the Security Council (some might be wondering at this point, “You gotta be kidding,” but the crowd enthusiastically applauds that goal); and (4) making a concerted effort to demand that Arab states recognize Israel by, among other things, conditioning such recognition. The price for entry into free-trade agreements and into the WTO, he argues, must be abandonment of the Arab League boycott of Israel.

He brings the crowd to its feet and extols them: “We must decide that today is the last day we accept that Israel is shunted aside at the United Nations. We must decide that today is the day we say to those who regard Israel as a pariah — enough!”