AIPAC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ADDRESSES UPRISINGS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
BY: FERN SIDMAN
During the morning session of day two of the AIPAC 2011 Policy Conference, the organization's Howard Kohr addressed the recent insurrections in North Africa and the Arab countries of the Middle East. "Think back just one year ago: Which one of us, when people thronged the streets and squares across the Arab world, demanding regime change – which one of us would have predicted they would not be shouting slogans against the United States, or carrying signs slandering Israel? Which one of us would have predicted we would hear those voices crying out against the injustices of their own rulers – crying out for the right to determine their own fates?" he queried.
Despite the initial hopes that the advancement of democracy and freedom would eventually become endemic to these countries Mr. Kohr pointed to the fact that the precise opposite results have unfolded with "America and Israel once more the enemy." Using oblique references to the rise in popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamic elements, Mr. Kohr said, "There are forces – internal and external – in every one of the Arab nations who seek a different ending to the story. Who seek to strengthen the forces of oppression and stifle democracy. Who seek to defeat America and to destroy Israel. Who seek to use this moment of hope to advance their own power and substitute a new era of repression and aggression."
Reminding his audience of the recent January 25th revolution that took place in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Mr. Kohr spoke of fallen president Hosni Mubarak and the ultimate outcomes of the uprising. "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?"
In stark contrast to the true nature of democratic institutions, Mr. Kohr addressed the underlying anti-Semitism that accompanies the protracted events. "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." He added, "We have an obligation to urge our policy-makers to do all they can to ensure that Egypt holds to its peace treaty with Israel" and said that this should be an imperative of American foreign policy.
"For 30 years, the prospect of an all-Arab war against Israel has been inconceivable – impossible, without the participation of Egypt. For 30 years, not only Israel, but the United States and the world have benefited in a shared strategic interest that there be no regional war in the Middle East. Should the new Egyptian Government renounce the peace treaty with Israel – the inconceivable becomes possible", he intoned.
Declaring that a post-Mubarak Egypt must maintain its commitment to peace with Israel, Mr. Kohr added that that would include "a continuation of the blockade of Gaza, no rapprochement with Iran and maintaining the integrity of the Suez Canal."
Pertaining the draconian measures employed against pro-democracy protestors by the Syrian government, Mr. Kohr was livid by the abject silence of the world."In Syria – we are witnessing political turmoil not seen in 30 years. What we see there is the raw power of repression. Indiscriminate killing. Mass graves. Tanks rolling through the streets. Secret police going door to door, rounding up thousands of people – torn from their homes, many never to be seen again. Where is the international outrage? Where are the demands that this must stop? And where is the U.N. Security Council Resolution? We applaud last week’s decision by the White House to sanction Assad, and we hope this is the beginning of ratcheted pressure on this regime."
Also addressing the international nemesis that is embodied by Iran, Mr. Kohr declared, "There is one regime whose leaders regularly celebrate the rising masses in every Arab nation – and yet, will not tolerate the smallest street gathering at home. When it comes to Iran – the international community has fallen silent. Yet, Iran is fomenting unrest in Bahrain. They are aiding the crackdown in Syria. Iran is funding Hezbollah, and they are arming Hamas. Iran is projecting its strength by sending naval ships into the Eastern Mediterranean. Iran is running new weapons into the region, and they are encouraging their proxies to probe and provoke Israel. And if that were not enough, Iran just went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and said – “We are ready to implement the next phase of our nuclear program.”
Concerning the ill advised partnership of Fatah and Hamas, Mr. Kohr proffered an astute analysis of the reluctance of the PA leader to takes the steps necessary to create a long-term peace agreement with Israel. "Abbas is ready to go to the ends of the earth but he will not travel the few short steps to sit down with Israel to pursue real peace." Citing Abbas willingness to orchestrate a propaganda campaign against Israel, he said, "So for the past 18 months, he has traveled a long and winding path, taking him farther and farther away from the neighbor he needs to sit down and negotiate with. Instead, Abbas has traveled as far as European and South American capitals, where he has encouraged the de-legitimization of the Jewish state, aimed at sapping Israel’s very ability to defend her own citizens. He has even begun to carve a path to the United Nations to seek a unilateral recognition for statehood. And now, in the last month, he has decided to come back – closer to home and pursue an effort to make peace with Hamas."
Mr. Kohr urged "faith, trust, and confidence between the leaders of Israel and the United States", adding that, "if Israel's foes come to believe that there is diplomatic daylight between the United States and Israel, they will have every incentive to try to exploit those differences and shun peace with the Jewish state."