On July 20, the American Conservative Union, sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), hosted the inaugural CPAC Israel at Hangar 11, on the Tel Aviv shore. At the event, in the works since a pilot trip by CPAC leadership two years pre-COVID, 3,000 attendees heard from three U.S. Ambassadors, two Cabinet members, two White House officials, an NBA star and Ben Shapiro, the popular conservative pundit. The capacity audience included many recent New York area yeshiva day school graduates.
CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp opened with a panel of CPAC’s partners, the CEOs of Tikvah Fund Israel and Sela Meir Books.
MK Amir Ohana, also a former minister of justice, joined former U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker in a review of the American and Israeli judicial systems and suggestions for conservative reforms. Whitaker highlighted the change in the balance of power in the USA, which should be co-equal branches of government. He referenced the very recent Dobbs decision on Roe v. Wade and the West Virginia/ EPA case, as “swinging the balance back to the Constitution.”
MK Ohana replied: “We have it worse. There was a revolution in 1977 when Israel first elected a government not from the left. We want Israel to be governed by the rule of law, and not by lawyers, which is what we have now. The Israeli attorney general has the final word on the government, and that’s not right.” He also described the Israeli system for appointing Supreme Court justices. Candidates must obtain seven of nine votes, with three of the nine being current justices and two voters appointed by the Israel Bar Association.
New Jersey’s own Jason Greenblatt, former assistant to President Trump and his special representative for international negotiations, joined two U.S. Ambassadors during the Abraham Accords process, John Rakolta, Jr. (UAE) and David Fischer (Morocco), discussing “Peace Through Strength.” Former White House Strategic Communications Director Mercedes Schlapp moderated. Greenblatt graded President Biden’s trip to Israel a ‘meh.’ “While the Yad Vashem visit was good, it was counterbalanced by a trip to an eastern Jerusalem hospital without any Israeli presence. That was incredible. Was he saying that eastern Jerusalem is not part of Israel?” Greenblatt’s appearance coincided with the release that day of his new book, “In the Path of Abraham” with his insider views on the Abraham Accords.
Rakolta said of Jared Kushner: “He’s to be applauded in a great way. He had a completely new vision on how to achieve peace, bypassing the Palestinians, and going to countries like the UAE, which was first.” Fischer compared Morocco’s takeover of Western Sahara to moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, “We were told there would be blood in the streets. You know what we got? Congratulations and thank yous! Never give up!”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell made a case for Why the World Misses ‘America First.’ “Every great civilization has lasted roughly 250 years,” Grenell said. “America is looking at what’s happening and wondering if we’re at that point.”
Retired NBA player Omri Casspi, now a political commentator, revved up the audience for the keynote speaker, Ben Shapiro. Whether on Fox News or speaking at adversarial college campuses, Shapiro always wears his kippah. After a rapid-paced comprehensive review of Israeli society, he then sat down for a friendly fireside chat with Israeli journalist Amit Segal, interrupted by raucous applause.
American participants in the VIP delegation received high-level briefings from former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Natan Scharansky, Yom-Kippur War/Entebbe hero Brigadier-General Effi Eitam, retired British Colonel Richard Kemp, a second session with the Abraham Accords team and a history of Jerusalem from Jana Falic.
Many delegates were first-time visitors to Israel. They explored the Old City of Jerusalem, including a preview of a tunnel (not yet open to the public) along the ancient road in the City of David from the Shiloah pool to the visitors’ center outside the Dung Gate. A rooftop reception at Aish HaTorah preceded their Kotel visit.
After a Golan Heights security briefing on the Syrian border, delegates visited an Ethiopian absorption center in Tzfat and distributed Israeli-produced Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to recent school-age olim, coordinated by former Young Israel of East Brunswick Rabbi Jay Weinstein. An unplanned spontaneous dance lesson in the parking lot occurred with several Ethiopian girls and the Schlapp daughters. Mom Mercedes Schlapp described it as a major highlight of the overall experience.
Delegates who remained for Shabbat went back to the Kotel Friday night to observe Tefillah and then had a traditional Shabbat dinner in a Jerusalem home.
CPAC has recently started satellite meetings in other countries, including Hungary, Brazil, Japan and Korea, and will host events in Mexico and Australia in the coming months. Future CPAC Israel events are planned.
The July 20 program can be viewed at www.conservative.org.
By Judy Berger