As executive director of the highly effective American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby, Howard Kohr wields immense influence on the Jewish world from the organization’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
Just this August, AIPAC helped secure the authorization by Congress of a $550 million package for Israel’s missile-defense and tunnel-defense programs. The bulk of the package will go to procuring the Jewish state’s multi-layered missile-defense systems and help provide unique security for Israelis from perhaps its most deadly external threats.
Kohr, who has headed AIPAC since 1996, now faces new challenges in his mission, however.
Hyper-partisanship in the US has contributed to a decline in Democratic support for Israel. So the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress which was always AIPAC’s most crucial strategic asset could be under threat.
And the ongoing antagonism of the religious parties in Israel toward progressive Jews – and their efforts to stymie and roll back recognition of non-Orthodox rights and greater Jewish religious pluralism in Israel – could dent the fervor of future generations for Israel by US Jews, who in large part, are not Orthodox.
The rightward direction of Israel’s current government on issues such as gay rights, the place of Israel’s minorities, and the ongoing festering conflict with the Palestinians is also a challenge for the largely liberal-leaning US Jewish community that comprises AIPAC’s source of strength.
Significantly, at this year’s AIPAC annual conference, Kohr explicitly endorsed a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, saying that security could not be achieved without peace.
Along with efforts to shore up bipartisan support, the speech indicated that Kohr understands the necessity of finding a middle ground in order to preserve his and AIPAC’s influence in support of the Jewish state.