Longtime AIPAC leader Howard Kohr to retire at end of the year

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addresses the Policy Conference in Washington on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)
AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addresses the Policy Conference in Washington on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)

Howard Kohr, the CEO who has led the powerhouse American Israel Public Affairs Committee since 1996, is set to retire by the end of this year.

Under Kohr’s leadership, AIPAC has traversed five United States presidencies and more than 10 Israeli elections. In that time, its budget and staff have enjoyed significant growth as it has become one of the best known and most powerful lobbies in Washington. During his tenure, US military aid to Israel increased to $3.8 billion per year, and AIPAC has been a leader in adding sanctions on Iran. In the last election cycle, 98% of the candidates its eponymous PAC endorsed won their races.

Before the onset of the pandemic, the lobby’s annual conference would bring up to 18,000 people to the nation’s capital — the largest Jewish gathering of the year. The final day of the conference would see cohorts of loyal activists take a three-point lobbying agenda to their representatives on Capitol Hill. Within weeks those items would often be the talk of the Capitol and on their way to passage.

Kohr’s decades also saw their share of controversy, especially in recent years: There was an espionage scandal in which two of former AIPAC employees were ultimately vindicated; a bruising fight with US president Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, which ultimately passed over AIPAC’s objections; and the launch of political action committees aimed in part at stemming the rise of progressive Democrats who are outspoken critics of Israel. Its actions have come at the cost of increasing hostility from progressive Democrats. Since 2020, it has not held a large national conference.

“With your support, Richard Fishman (z”l) and I spent our careers advancing our shared mission and ensuring that AIPAC was always able to strengthen and expand the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Kohr says in an email to the AIPAC board announcing his plans and referencing Fishman, his co-CEO and brother in arms at the lobby, who died unexpectedly in late October.

Kohr, 68, had long wanted to retire at the end of this year, insiders said, and planned last October to announce his exit with Fishman. But Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, the ensuing war and Fishman’s death led Kohr to delay the announcement.

The announcement comes in a presidential election year and an acrimonious campaign between US President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump. It also comes nearly six months into the Israel-Hamas war, as Israel is facing mounting criticism from progressives, and the Biden administration, over its military campaign in Gaza. Trump, who has vowed to support Israel, also recently cautioned it in an interview to “be very careful because you’re losing a lot of the world.”

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