The head of US-Zioniost lobby AIPAC hailed Monday the “green shoots of democracy” pushing out Arab autocrats, but Zionist American supporters remain wary of the impacts of uncertain popular uprisings.
Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Zionist Public Affairs Committee, told thousands of delegates that while recent months have brought the most dramatic change in the region since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, they are also jeopardizing Zionist entire security framework.
“The fact is, this most hopeful time of change in the region is at the same time one of the most challenging periods in Israel’s history.”
For decades, he said, Israel has been the region’s lone democracy “in a sea of dictatorships,” with peace and war constantly in the balance.
This year, the AIPAC Policy Conference — which drew US President Barack Obama as keynote speaker Sunday and will host Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Monday — gathers “at a moment of great transition and hopeful anticipation.”
“We should all celebrate the genuine green shoots of democracy in the Arab world,” Kohr said.
But he warned against extremists and Iran seeking to exploit power vacuums in the region and said that “true democracy can never be rooted in racist hatred.”
Popular revolts this year have swept dictatorships from power in Tunisia and Egypt; triggered a civil war in Libya and prompted widespread and deadly demonstrations in Syria and Yemen.
But amid those revolutions, “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,” Kohr said.
Amid the region’s rapid-fire developments, “the security architecture that has existed for the last 30 years, and that has allowed Israel to flourish, may be in jeopardy — indeed, it may be crumbling,” Kohr warned.
Among the nations being watched most closely was Egypt, which has honored a peace pact with neighbor Israel for more than three decades, providing a “cornerstone” of stability in the Middle East.
Maintaining the peace treaty must be a top American policy priority, Kohr said.
“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,” Kohr said.
He added that an Egyptian peace commitment would also mean “no rapprochement with Iran,” which he described as a rogue state seeking to benefit from the recent upheaval, particularly in close ally Syria.
With President Bashar al-Assad under mounting power to step aside, Syria has become a central battleground in the struggle between the West, which is pushing for more secular democracies in the region, and Iran, which Kohr said aims at “hijacking this season of change to advance its radical agenda.”
Such potential for unrest is gnawing at AIPAC members, said delegate Robert Friedmann, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University.
“The so-called Arab Spring, if it is indeed a spring, offers some hope. The problem is, it also offers some risks,” Friedmann told AFP, expressing concern that even the first steps toward democracy in the region could end up washing out.
“Democracy is not a single-time election, it’s a tradition” that involves the steady building of democratic institutions, he added.
“I don’t see any indication of that in any of the critical Middle East societies.
“So there is no contradiction between being hopeful and being apprehensive. That schizophrenic attitude is justified.”