Last Tuesday, after packing my car with two suitcases, radio broadcasting equipment, minyan bag including a “Make America Great Again” kippah, and one 29-year-old daughter, I made my annual trek to our nation’s capital for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Or as I jokingly call it, band camp for conservatives.
CPAC 2019, however, was much different from the eight previous CPACs I’ve attended (I missed last year because of a family illness). It seems as if the conservative movement in general, and CPAC specifically, has become heimish.
My first stop in DC was not CPAC but conservative Paul Teller. Paul, former chief of staff for Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is now Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. It wasn’t our shared belief in conservatism that drew Paul and I together as friends, but our shared support of Jewish issues and Israel.
Paul’s office, in the East Wing of the White House, reflected that support. It didn’t contain any political props because, Teller told me, they aren’t allowed in government offices. His office displayed his pride in the Jewish State and featured a glass cabinet protecting tchotchkes from the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem (he was there to support the members of Congress who went) and a kippah showing a picture of his former boss Ted Cruz.
It was an extraordinary feeling to be only a few hundred feet from the most powerful office in the world. I say the most powerful office rather than the most powerful person, because the president wasn’t there. He had already left for Vietnam and his meeting with the chubby despot with the lousy hair. Paul assured me that there was no truth to the rumor circulating throughout my family, that the real reason Trump went to Vietnam to avoid being in the White House while I was there.
There were many vital issues Teller could have discussed with me, given his position in legislative affairs, but our sole focus was Israel and his pride in working for a president whose America First policy includes the need to support a Jewish State of Israel.
My meeting with Paul Teller and our discussion about Israel set the tone for the next four days, because CPAC 2019 had more visibly Jewish attendees and more speakers talking about Israel than any other CPAC I have ever attended.
While I spent most of the conference in my usual place — in the media filing center at the back of the ballroom where the main speakers made their addresses — for two hours on Thursday and again on Friday, I broadcast my radio show, The Lid (SHR Media Network) from CPAC’s “Radio Row.” Radio Row is a chain of broadcast booths outside the walls of the ballroom. From that vantage point, I could see the conference attendees as they checked out who was broadcasting from CPAC. There were more visibly Jewish attendees, men wearing kippot, than ever before.
The importance of Jewish conservatives was not only reflected in my fellow Yids wearing lids, it went way beyond that. Most of the general audience speakers, including Senators Mike Lee, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, the head of Turning Point USA Charlie Kirk, Internet stars Diamond and Silk, the “great one” radio star Mark Levin, and many others, spoke of the importance of the US-Israel relationship as part of their address.
There were also specific programs directed toward Jewish topics. These included “Protecting the Freedom of Jerusalem,” an address given by Ambassador Dore Gold, the former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well two panel discussions. One was called “Why Anti-Zionism is a Form of Anti-Semitism and a Threat to National Security,” and featured Rabbi Yechezkel Moskowitz of the National Council of Young Israel. The other was called “Examining the Contributions of the Only Democracy in the Middle East,” and its panelists included Elie Pieprz of the Yesha Council and Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, who represented Israel in many different capacities and cities in America.
CPAC on Friday brought the announcement of a new Jewish organization called Jexodus.org, formed by Jewish millennials who are “tired of living in bondage to leftist politics.” They “reject the hypocrisy, anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism of the rising far-left.” They also reject the leadership of too many old-school Jewish organizations who put their allegiance to liberal politics before their loyalty to the Jewish people.
While I was welcomed ten years ago during my first trip to CPAC, there was a feeling of isolation. The presence of fellow Jews and Jewish topics seemed rare. The void reflected the sparseness of Jews in the conservative movement.
However, the combination of a president and a conservative movement placing greater emphasis on supporting Jewish issues because they naturally fit with the America First agenda, has led to more Jews taking a look at conservative principals. Their open-minded research has made them realize that conservatism closely aligned with traditional Jewish values. Thus, they are abandoning the anti-Semitism of liberal groups and becoming conservative.
The American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, saw this change happening. It was reflected in their program, which, in the end, drew more Jews like my daughter and me to CPAC and the capital last week.