AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr to retire at end of year

The longtime chief executive built AIPAC into an influential lobbying and political entity over nearly 30 years in the role

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Howard Kohr, executive director of AIPAC, speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference in 2018

Howard Kohr, the longtime chief executive of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will retire at the end of the year after nearly 30 years atop the influential pro-Israel organization. 

The announcement, which AIPAC shared with members this afternoon, comes as the organization gears up to spend tens of millions of dollars on congressional races this year. That AIPAC is now playing a major, direct role in elections is a result of a massive strategic shift that Kohr and co-CEO Richard Fishman, who died in October, oversaw in recent years, moving the organization away from grassroots bipartisan lobbying and toward political spending. 

“We are the tip of the spear for driving vital pro-Israel policies in Congress and ensuring America stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel. We are building the political strength to stand firmly with our allies and defeat our detractors,” Kohr said in an email to AIPAC members, which was obtained by Jewish Insider.

Kohr’s tenure at AIPAC has included several key moments in the U.S.-Israel alliance, including the completion of a 10-year funding package approved by Congress in 2016 and the decision by the Trump administration to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In recent months, the group has lobbied Congress to pass $14.3 billion in supplemental security assistance to Israel. 

Kohr’s years at the helm of AIPAC also coincided with growing partisanship in Washington. AIPAC has always worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans, but building broad bipartisan consensus on legislative priorities became more difficult in recent years. 

In 2015, AIPAC offered its support to congressional Republicans who invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress over the objections of their Democratic colleagues, who were frustrated that then-President Barack Obama had not been consulted. 

AIPAC also lobbied strongly against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was championed by the Obama administration — and dismantled by former President Donald Trump. After the 2018 election of the four far-left lawmakers known as “the Squad,” AIPAC turned its attention toward countering hostility toward Israel among a small but outspoken faction in the Democratic Party.

Under Kohr, AIPAC built up its grassroots arm, hosting annual policy conferences with upwards of 20,000 people. After the 2020 policy conference, AIPAC canceled the decades-old event and shifted its focus to political fundraising — a major change for an organization that previously spurned partisan politics and did not give money directly to candidates. 

In 2022, AIPAC’s first year operating a political action committee and an affiliated Super PAC, the organization spent heavily in several Democratic primaries, seeking to defeat progressives in favor of moderate pro-Israel Democrats. AIPAC issued hundreds of endorsements of both Democrats and Republicans. The group faced criticism for its support of more than 100 Republicans who had voted not to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Kohr held the line that Israel is the only issue AIPAC considers when making endorsements, telling The Washington Post in 2022 that “We’re not trying to constrict the community.” 

Kohr said in his Tuesday email that he and Fishman planned to announce their retirement at the end of this year in October, but the announcement was pushed back after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel and Fishman’s death. 

AIPAC’s board will tap a search committee to identify a successor to Kohr, who joined AIPAC in 1987 and became executive director in 1996. He previously worked at the Republican Jewish Coalition and the American Jewish Committee.

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