Fellow Jews, It's Time To Meet CPAC | Opinion

It was a quintessential Jewish CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) moment in Orlando this past weekend: Picture Shabbat afternoon, following a socially distanced 100-person glatt kosher traditional Shabbat luncheon, standing in the hallway schmoozing (while wearing a mask) with freshman Congresswoman Kat Cammack of Florida. We were chatting about the large Israeli flag she boldly put outside her congressional office, which is right next to the office of anti-Israel Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two CPAC staffers—one an Orthodox Jew wearing a yarmulke—trying to get my attention. I politely excused myself from the congresswoman and learned from the staffers that a group of online trolls were making another unfounded accusation against CPAC, this time a fantastical stretch of a story about the shape of the CPAC stage sending subliminal messages to Jew-haters. In shock, the descriptive words I used while digesting this news was that it was "ludicrous, moronic, bonkers and simply beyond belief."

Granted, if you already believed what some in the media have fed you about CPAC, a conspiracy theory about a stage shape would simply confirm your preexisting bias about the conference being a breeding ground for neo-Nazis. But if you know the CPAC that I know—and I have attended the last 10 conferences, including the last two as conference staff—these accusations represent jaw-dropping chutzpah and disingenuousness. They are a case study in the kind of petty and dishonest political mud-slinging that violates every sense of decency.

Here's why: The CPAC I know is the one that hired me to be a senior fellow for Israel and Jewish affairs, a role in which I advise the organization on how to bring the fight for Israel and against anti-Semitism into every single facet of the organization—both at the national CPAC conference and the dozens of smaller conferences and events the group holds annually throughout the U.S. and the world.

CPAC 2021 was a conference that listed "Jewish prayer service" as the very first (!) item on the official conference agenda, and then listed another five Jewish prayer sessions (far more than any other religious group!), in addition to a Purim luncheon and several Shabbat meals.

It is where I moderated a panel this past Friday (on Purim) titled: "In Every Generation: Ancient Lessons for the Modern Fight for Israel," featuring a Jewish academic, a Jewish journalist and a major Jewish political candidate.

It is a place where dozens and dozens of Jewish activists walk proudly among friends with their yarmulkes and outward signs of Jewishness, to the wall-to-wall positive feedback from conference-goers of all faiths.

It is where every speaker knows that support for Israel will invariably receive a deafening roar of applause, and where it is not at all remarkable to see non-Jews decked out in pro-Israel clothing accessories.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at CPAC 2021 in Orlando, Florida Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It is where a full Shabbat program—including prayer services, Torah reading and traditional meals—attracting hundreds of people has run parallel to the main conference for a decade.

It is where former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman passionately advocate for a strong Israel, as he did last year from a CPAC-branded remote stage specially constructed in ancient Jerusalem's City of David.

CPAC is an organization that is proactively planning for a "CPAC Israel" to assist Israeli conservative groups in building out their own conservative movement.

CPAC is where the idea for a Taylor Force Act—forbidding U.S. tax payer money from being used by the Palestinian Authority to incentivize terror against Jews (the so-called "pay to slay" program)—was first introduced on a national stage (by Sander Gerber, an American Conservative Union board member who is an Orthodox Jew). From there it went on to become law—and a formidable weapon in the battle for a safer Israel, at that.

It is where a problematic panelist who somehow slipped by the vetting process was summarily yanked within moments of the concerns being heard, and a statement was released making it clear that anti-Semitism of any kind is completely and unequivocally unwelcome and condemned.

Forget about fever dreams of subliminal signaling: CPAC shoots off a veritable fireworks show of pro-Jewish messages each and every year.

Let's talk candidly. This is bigger than petty politics. Considering the above, you don't have to be politically conservative to admit that the news articles implying anti-Semitism on CPAC's part reflect either jaw-dropping bias or simply lazy journalism. All fair-minded people of any political orientation have to admit that the above describes the Jewish people's very best and warmest of friends. This is something I vouch for personally—as can the hundreds of Jewish attendees who look forward each year to their annual embrace by friends at CPAC.

Fellow Jews: I am not asking you to become politically conservative, vote Republican or support former President Donald Trump. I am not asking you to attend CPAC. I am simply asking you to learn about this very influential American political organization, which bends over backwards, year after year, to embrace and welcome and support Jews as they engage in political dialogue at the very highest level. CPAC's friendship with the Jewish community—spearheaded by a talented team that is led by Chairman Matt Schlapp and Executive Director Dan Schneider—deserves to be applauded by Jews and Zionists of all political leanings. Basic Jewish sensibilities mandate Hakarat HaTov, showing gratitude to them—not knee-jerk and ignorant criticism of the very strongest allies we have in our collective fight for a strong Israel and a strong Jewish people.

Rabbi Yitz Tendler serves as senior fellow for Israel & Jewish affairs for the American Conservative Union (the parent organization of CPAC), is co-founder of Young Jewish Conservatives and is a synagogue executive director in Atlanta, Georgia. He invites fair-minded dialogue at ytendler@conservative.org.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.