CPAC 2020: An unprecedented show of conservative support for Israel

“It’s not easy to create a new shrine in Jerusalem,” said Friedman . “But in establishing our embassy here, we have.”

CPAC 2020 logo (photo credit: BRADLEY MARTIN)
CPAC 2020 logo
(photo credit: BRADLEY MARTIN)
The American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference was held in the last week of February, when activists and elected officials from across the US gathered in order to promote political conservatism. At this year’s conference and convention, amidst the thunderous support for free-market capitalism, gun rights and fighting against online censorship, American support for the Jewish state was fundamental.
“If the world knows nothing else, the world knows this,” exclaimed US Vice President Mike Pence during his keynote address. “America stands with Israel!” The mention of the Jewish state was immediately met with applause and a standing ovation by the captive audience.
“You know this president has done more to support our most cherished ally than anyone could have imagined just three short years ago,” continued Pence. “We got out of the Iran nuclear deal, we recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and President Donald Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel.”
Prior to the vice president’s speech, there was a video presentation featuring US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Aryeh Lightstone, who works in Friedman’s office, and Ze’ev Orenstein of the City of David Foundation. They spoke from a platform beside the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.
“As a Jew and as an American, this is the place where both of my heritages began,” said Friedman as he described Jerusalem as where America’s Judeo-Christian values originated. The ambassador recounted how president John Adams spoke of restoring an independent Jewish nation to Israel, while the US would later establish a consulate in Jerusalem in 1844.
“Without Jerusalem, we are untethered to the spirit of our Founding Fathers,” said Friedman while condemning what he described as the shamelessness of the UN in denying the city as Israel’s capital. Orenstein noted how “you can immerse yourself in the history” by visiting the City of David and pool, while Lightstone emphasized the instrumental role the ambassador played in making the embassy move from Tel Aviv a reality.
“It’s not easy to create a new shrine in Jerusalem,” said Friedman . “But in establishing our embassy here, we have.”
This year’s conference kicked off under the banner of “America vs. Socialism,” in a swipe against the leftward drift of the Democratic Party. A video advertisement by CPAC sponsor Chovevei Zion (“Lovers of Zion”) played throughout the conference, extolling the values of Zionism, the sacredness of all life, capitalism and gun rights as having “all got their start in the City of Zion.” Nachman Mostofsky, the organization’s executive director, noted with pride that this was the first time a Jewish right-wing organization sponsored CPAC.
“Today, there is an overlap in American conservative values and the heartland and pioneering values of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” said Rabbi Yishai Fleisher, international spokesperson for the Jewish community in Hebron. “People here at CPAC are plugged into the Bible, which makes us natural allies.” Fleisher organized the first annual Israel Heartland Reception, which took place the second day of the conference at the Residence Inn across from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.
“We are gathered here to express our appreciation of the incredible contributions [to Israel] by the Trump administration,” Fleisher said as he held up a bottle of “Pompeo” wine, graciously named after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by the Psagot Winery following the top US diplomat’s decision to reverse longstanding American policy that deemed Israeli settlements to be illegal. The event honored Rep. Mark Meadows for his staunch support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Chovevei Zion presented Meadows with an award.
“I will put this next to my copy of President Trump’s letter, announcing his decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem!” said Meadows as he was warmly received by the audience. One of the White House’s closest allies in Congress, Trump made a surprise announcement the following week Meadows would replace Mick Mulvaney as White House chief of staff.
Other prominent presenters included President of the Zionist Organization of America Morton Klein, former governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker, retired British Army officer col. Richard Kemp, and Rep. Andy Biggs from Arizona.
“Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria [… ] are not inconsistent with international law,” said Biggs during his remarks at the reception. “I am grateful to Secretary of State Pompeo for recognizing this.” This feeling was shared by his colleagues on stage.
“We all share a passion for Israel and the heartland of Israel,” said Meadows. “When you actually visit Israel, you start to see why a two-state solution is not a solution at all.” The congressman was referring to the shortest width of the Jewish state as being similar to the size of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “I look forward to the time when we recognize Judea, Samaria and Hebron as part of Israel, don’t you?”
Walker would go on to fondly describe his recent trip to the city of Hebron, while Kemp jokingly opened his presentation with a reference to the UK’s formal withdrawal from the European Union.
“We’ve joined you in celebrating our own independence!” Kemp exclaimed in reference to Brexit. The colonel went on to praise Israel’s protection of not only Jewish, but Christian holy sites in the country.
Klein did not hold back in his admiration of the Trump administration, praising Trump as being “the greatest president Israel has ever had in the White House.” The ZOA head revealed that the Taylor Force Act originally would have only ceased one-third of American economic aid to the Palestinian Authority until it stopped paying stipends to Palestinian terrorists and their families. But, due to Trump’s intervention, all American aid to that body ended up being eliminated completely.
“The Palestinian Authority is not interested in any compromise,” said Klein. “They’ve turned down statehood and never even offered a counter-offer.”
The following day, Fleisher spoke on a panel alongside Rep. Lee Zeldin and Caroline Glick.
“When I was in the army, I was a member of the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinians,” said Glick when describing her position in the IDF after the signing of the Oslo Accords. “I learned a lot professionally during this period, but it was also very stressful because the people we were meeting with were actually going out and planning terrorist attacks right after they left the negotiating.”
“They were sitting, they were breaking bread with us,” said Glick when describing her gradual disillusionment with the Israel-Palestinian peace process. “They were our good friends and…  partners in negotiating deals, and then they were breaching them.” Glick went on to say that, according to the San Remo Convention, the lawful borders of Israel include the West Bank.
“In December of 2016…  [President Barack] Obama’s administration ends up fast tracking through the UN Security Council a resolution that in my opinion, essentially seeks to ethnically cleanse Judea and Samaria and east Jerusalem of Jews,” said Zeldin, contrasting the Obama and Trump administrations as “night and day” when it came to US policy toward Israel. The congressman jokingly noted how he was one of the few Jewish Republican members of Congress, though that number was slowly growing.
“When I first came to Congress, I was both the highest ranking Jewish Republican and the lowest ranking Jewish Republican,” said Zeldin. “We’ve since doubled our numbers… but we are still a few short of a minyan.”
That evening in the Residence Inn, Young Jewish Conservatives organized their annual Shabbat at CPAC. This served as an opportunity for Jewish conservatives to network and touch base with each other, many of whom either previously worked or interned with members of Congress. This year’s program featured a presentation by Dalia al-Aqidi, a former refugee from Iraq whose family fled their country in 1988 due to harsh persecution by Saddam Hussein. Aqidi appealed for help in running for Congress as a Republican, seeking to unseat Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Among other speakers, the final day of the conference featured a talk by Mark Levin, conservative author and radio personality, and his wife Julie. In his characteristically acerbic sense of humor, Levin gave a spirited defense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu based on his conservative outlook, whom he praised as one of the greatest men he ever met.
“After World War II, what did the British do? They voted [Winston] Churchill out of office,” said Levin. “Insane. What else did the British do? Well, [Margaret] Thatcher’s party stabbed her in the back and they threw her out of office for John Major, who was a joke. And now you look at Israel. You have the strongest prime minister in the history of that country, who works very closely with our president. Who stares down the Iranians, the Syrians, the Palestinians, who’s brought enormous prosperity to that country, what do they want to do? Put him in prison!”
“What’s the lesson here?” said Levin. “The Left is diabolical. Whether it’s in America, whether it’s in Israel, whether it’s in Britain, the Left is the same! The Left is diabolical!” Levin went on to criticize Israeli media over its coverage of the Netanyahu, whom he had spoken with prior to the March 2020 elections.
“If you think our [American] media is bad you ought to see it over there!” exclaimed Levin. “It’s absolutely disastrous!”
A few floors above the convention floor, an area for the media organizations and podcasts was reserved. The set-up which included a number of well-known conservative personalities, such as former deputy assistant to Trump, Dr. Sebastian Gorka, and conservative commentator Dan Bongino. Both of them interviewed conference attendees and speakers on their respective programs throughout the event.
But amidst all the “Trump 2020” bumper stickers and mini-bottles of hand sanitizer being given away, pro-Israel groups made their presence known. Christians United for Israel dispensed brochures from its booth, advertising its annual summit in Washington., while also signing college students up for their organized trips to Israel. Young Jewish Conservatives and Chovevei Zion also had booths promoting their events. Another booth reserved by Doc Emet Productions President Gloria Z. Greenfield promoted her series of documentaries defending Israel, opposing antisemitism and fighting against anti-Western ideas and movements.
Though the focus of CPAC 2020 was against the rise of socialism in America, a strong pro-Israel message could be found throughout the program. With considerably more visibly Jewish attendees and pro-Israel speakers than in previous years, the importance of Israel’s safety and security as top priorities could not be overstated.
In a time when the Democratic Party increasingly distinguishes itself with virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic figures, such as Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (as well as Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders saying he may relocate the US Embassy out of Jerusalem), such sincere interest and love for the Jewish state by American conservatives is certainly an encouraging sight to behold.
The writer is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and deputy editor for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.