Neoconservatism and Israeli realism and the Howard Kohr reconciliation


The caricature of AIPAC as a proxy for neoconservatives has always been just that — a caricature.

AIPAC’s core mission has been to defend Israel, and it forges alliances with the political movements likeliest to advance that cause.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Israel’s natural ally was liberal Democrats (who were more prone to embrace a democracy with a strong labor movement), AIPAC was drawn into that entourage and appeared to take on its hues. Its staff and leadership almost exclusively were drawn from among Democrats.

Throughout the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, when the seeds of an interventionist foreign policy that embraced like-minded democracies took root on the right, AIPAC forged its closest alliances with neoconservatives and ended up caught up in that movement’s highs and lows.

There has always been a tension, however, between pro-Israelism and neoconservatism: Israel is wary of democracy among its neighbors. Not of the notion, necessarily, but of the dangers embedded in its advent. (Herein lies an exquisite irony: The Israelis who have most embraced American neoconservatism are, from the Israeli perspective, hard-core foreign policy realists.)

This tension has bubbled over in the past — in 2005, neoconservatives backed the Bush administration’s push for a Palestinian plebiscite and Israelis balked — but never more so than now during the Arab Spring.

Elliott Abrams, perhaps more than any other neoconservative leader, has publicly taken Israel to task for its resistance to weathering the winds of change toward a better day, when Israel has institutionalized peace with its neighboring nations and not just the autocrats who have held them in a yoke.

Howard Kohr is delivering his keynote speech. His main themes are Iran (more on that later), the alleged failures of the Palestinians (no surprise there) and the bilateral U.S.-Israel relationship (more on that later), but the first part attempts to reconcile the tensions between AIPAC’s closest relationships right now: with neoconservatives and with Israel.

Here’s the crux of Kohr’s speech:

Even now, when the dictators have been deposed, that remains their legacy heard today on the Arab street.

Is it any surprise that the fall of a dictator leaves a vacuum, setting off a scramble for power in which the forces of democracy are just one contender among many?

We should all celebrate the genuine green shoots of democracy in the Arab world, but we must never shrink from calling out and condemning anti-Semitic policy under the guise of popular will. 

True democracy is more than the right to vote. True democracy includes building civil institutions and a sense of civic responsibility. And true democracy can never be rooted in racist hatred. 

Kohr applies these principles to Egypt:

While we all hope that Egypt emerges from its current political transition with a functioning, Western-oriented democracy, the fact is the best-organized political force in Egypt today is the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not recognize Israel and which has called for the abrogation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. 

If Egypt walks away from 30 years of peace, the strategic implications are inescapable: The militaries of both the United States and Israel would have to consider how to counter a possible Egyptian threat. 

While the peace treaty may be the cornerstone of stability and security in the region, this should not be all that American policy should expect from a post-Mubarak Egypt.

A true Egyptian commitment to peace means a continuation of the blockade of Gaza. It means no rapprochement with Iran. And it means maintaining the integrity of the Suez Canal. 

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