The AIPAC policy conference in Washington began today on a defensive note, with the Israel lobby organization’s chief executive saying that Israel’s friends face a terrible new challenge, “the scurrilous charge of dual loyalty” and declaring, “The intense hatred of Israel is now creeping from the margins to the center of our politics.”
Howard Kohr addressed thousands at the Washington convention center after several non-Jewish warmup speakers pronounced, “I’m an American and I stand with Israel.”
AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is plainly responding to the decision by several Democratic presidential candidates to sidestep the conference as well as the controversy over Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s statement last month that some American supporters of Israel don’t know where their allegiance lies.
The theme of Kohr’s angry speech was that it is American as apple pie to support Israel, and building an even stronger relationship between the countries will make both countries better.
Kohr painted a dark portrait of those now attacking the Israel lobby.
We are being challenged in a way that’s new and far more aggressive. We have always had critics and detractors, and some have been particularly harsh. But today they are emboldened and energized, and their false claims are taken at face value by new and larger audiences. Those claims are not meant to inform or engage in legitimate debate. They are meant to isolate us and demonize us so they can undermine America’s historic support for Israel.
Kohr said that the critics have announced that “you can’t be a good campus leader and a supporter of Israel, they say you can’t be a good progressive and support Israel.” But now they’ve gone further.
Now they are saying, you can’t even be a good American and be a supporter of Israel.
This isn’t a “normal” debate, he said.
This is defamation… The scurrilous charge of dual loyalty is a signal, and that signal amplified by today’s social media — is now empowering people who have long opposed our cause, our movement, and, frankly, everything we have built.
The intense hatred of Israel is now creeping from the margins to the center of our politics. … to the very places where people gather to make decisions.
The other side is trying to isolate us from our friends, our neighbors and the other causes and coalitions we care so deeply about.
Their designs are plain to see. They want to starve Israel of America’s support. They want the Jewish state vulnerable and alone. For America’s sake we cannot let that happen. America needs a strong Israel.
The three-day AIPAC conference will draw top U.S. politicians from both parties and Israeli Jewish politicians. It will culminate with a speech by the rightwing Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
Kohr said that American support is based on mutual values. “America sees in Israel a young nation, a nation that believes its best days are ahead of it. A nation always striving to be better, more just and true to the message of its founders, a nation dedicated to freedom of religion for people of all faiths.”
Kohr also said, “We do our work for all to see.” And he painted AIPAC as the face of America.
What unites our pro-Israel movement is the passion for bringing American and Israel closer for the benefit of both and the benefit of all.
We look like America because we are America.
He closed by stating that over the years many others have attacked AIPAC’s “right” to lobby for Israel. “Each time we have mobilized,” he said. “When they tell us to move back, we move forward… When they tell us to sit down, we stand up. We stand up!”
Kohr, said to be the son of a Holocaust survivor, was reported to make $720,000 in 2017. He has headed AIPAC since 1996.
Note: My original quotations were from a rush transcript. I filled in with full quotations from Jewish Insider’s transcript.