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Trump Front and Center at CPAC and J Street

Jacob Kornbluh, Washington D.C.

Conferences Discuss Different Approaches to Similar Issues

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

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GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS At CPAC, young Jewish students and activists expressed hope that Trump would transition from campaigning against the media and his critics to governing at home (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

D uring the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised his supporters that, if elected, the country would win so much that they would tire of winning.

Last week, as thousands of conservative Republicans gathered for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, the mood reflected that exuberance.

Over the past decade, CPAC has served as a platform for politicians seeking to build their conservative credentials and as a rowdy gathering for out-of-power activists.

But this year, with a Republican president in office and Republicans in the US House and Senate controlling the agenda for the next two years, conservative activists found an inner peace. Instead of full-throated protests of liberal Democrats, participants instead considered how best to govern in the age of Trump.

Israel, usually a hot topic at Republican events, was hardly mentioned at the annual gathering. But the few times that Israel was raised, the crowd roared.

One of those who raised the subject of Israel was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who said he has introduced a bill that would withhold US funding to the United Nations unless it repeals Security Council resolution 2334. Later in the evening, Vice President Mike Pence promised that Trump would “stand with Israel.”

“Israel’s fight is our fight, her cause is our cause, her values are our values,” said Pence.

President Trump, appearing at CPAC in his first months in office like Ronald Reagan before him, rehashed some of his familiar campaign talking points in his speech, riling up the crowd against the media and the Democrats.

Yitzchok Cummings, 24, a first-time CPAC attendee from Linwood, New Jersey, said he was excited to see the president keeping his promise to be a change agent. Nonetheless, he expressed concern about the tumultuous start of the administration and Trump’s slow response to the growing threat of anti-Semitism.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. listens intently to remarks during the CPAC conference

“You have a president who has a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren," Cummings said. “It’s very clear to me and to a lot of other Jews that he’s clearly pro-Israel and he’s a friend of the Jewish community. But at the same time, it’s been a little disappointing that in certain ways he hasn’t been as quick or as strong to affirm certain things.”

Just a few miles away, but on the opposite end of the political divide, thousands of liberal American Jews gathered at the J Street national conference to rally around principles they hope will unite American Jewry against the Trump administration.

Like at CPAC, domestic and social justice issues drove the conversation. For the first time since 2008, J Street is bracing for a new political environment in which they have no allies in the White House. Speakers at the conference included some of the Democratic Party’s most outspoken voices, including senators Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Speaking to reporters, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said there were important fights ahead on Israel, the Iran deal, and the United Nations. But he also promised that J Street would widen its scope beyond Israel to advocate on issues like refugees, immigration, and Islamophobia. (excerpted)

— Jacob Kornbluh is the political reporter for Jewish Insider

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