Howard Kohr turns the spotlight away from himself and on Israel

#43: Howard Kohr

Howard Kohr (photo credit: COURTESY AIPAC)
Howard Kohr
(photo credit: COURTESY AIPAC)
Howard Kohr, the longtime executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is an anomaly in the firmament of leaders of American Jewish organizations: He shuns the spotlight.
While most of those in a similar position in organizations such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, J Street and the Zionist Organization of America actively seek out the press, Kohr shuns it.
A throwaway sentence in a March 4 New York Times piece headlined “Ilhan Omar’s Criticism raises the question: Is AIPAC too Powerful?” sums up his media strategy: “Mr. Kohr declined a request for an interview.”
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Speeches at his organization’s annual conference in Washington, yes. Interviews, no.
But while he might not toot his own horn, he regularly appears on lists of the most powerful people in Washington – and the organization he leads is arguably the most important group outside of Israel working on behalf of the Jewish state today. Despite all the background noise, Israel continues to enjoy robust bipartisan support in Congress – support that is by no means a given – and which is there, in no small part, due to efforts by the organization that Kohr heads.
But the job is getting increasingly difficult. As Kohr said at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington in March, “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’s mission is to ensure that support remains. It is a job that is becoming harder in Washington’s toxic atmosphere, and during the era of a polarizing US president and Israeli prime minister, of congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and of activist Jewish anti-Israel organizations. Yet over the past year, Kohr has proven – as he has consistently done since taking the reins of AIPAC in 1996 – that this is a task he is well up to.