Buckley on Jews and Israel

It should be of no surprise that William F. Buckley, the icon of the Conservative movement, as well as the most literate individual to have ever been part of America’s intellectual right, was undeniably a supporter of Israel. However, more importantly Buckley made it possible for Jews to feel welcome in the Conservative movement- something unthinkable in the 50’s and 60’s.


It wasn’t just his support for Israel per-say, which most likely stemmed from his own religious convictions, but also the fact that he found Jews to be valuable on the Republican stage. This is best seen by their inclusion in the setting up of his famous National Review, but also the fact that he promoted the removal of Antisemitism from the intellectual right, and sought the destruction of hatred towards Jews within the American mentality as well.

David Klinghoffer, a Jew who worked at the National Review as an editor in the 50’s recounts his experience as a positive one, but more importantly mentions that Buckley “swept the vestigial anti-Semites from the right-wing scene”, ultimately alluding to Buckley’s intense consolidation of a proper all-encompassing Conservative movement- one where homogeneity was only found within ideas, and maybe not even there.

Whatever the case may be, Buckley’s Conservatism was one that was open to all regardless of race, which is why many Jews began to follow Buckley’s moderated stance on a wide array of issues- a great deal of which were debated profusely on his 2 decade long show-The Firing Line– where polemics was the only means of expression.

Jonathan Tobin, a columnist for the Jewish World Review in fact goes as far to argue that Buckley’s staunch anti-communism and rampant libertarianism were in fact the very reasons as to why he acted with such fervor against antisemitism within American politics, but also as to why he supported Israel as the only democratic nation in the Middle East.

Let us not forget that it was he who said that Israel should be included in the U.S union- as Jerusalem would be no different form Chicago itself. This of course was all figurative speech, as truly what he was saying is that the U.S ought to be Israel’s biggest supporter- something which has obviously become a reality since the late 1960’s.

But really, it wasn’t just Buckley’s “great effort”, as Samuel Freedman called it, to purge American Conservatism of hatred towards Jews, but also the formation of a brand of conservatism that was first modern and second far more moderated and practical in framework. This in itself, was essential to letting Jews be part of the new politics of America. Interestingly, it was also around this period, specifically during the 60’s and 70’s, that Jews were being classified as “white”. Although there are a great deal of complications that come with this label, it is still important because it signifies a transition from a lower status, to a theoretically equal one.

William F. Buckley played an important role as the leader of a Conservative movement with ironically a “human face”- where the practical right-wing took up the inclusion of more than just one form of the American individual. The fact that he let Jews, African Americans and all other races and religions in his own form of Conservatism is exactly one of the reasons why Buckley was so respected by liberals and Democrats regardless of the ideological differences.

Why were so many Jews attracted to Buckley’s Conservatism? It was his moderated conservative ideas, as well as his libertarian stance on political and economic autonomy that attracted Jews of intellectual and conservative backgrounds, but it also appealed to a great deal of those who escaped the drudgery of the Soviet Union and other Communist states.

The point is that Jews should not be considered as eternally part of the liberal, left-wing movement. Although this is mostly the case today, it is important not to forget that there were a great deal of Jewish conservatives within America. As we know, Israel’s conservative government in our own contemporary has been calling some less-than popular shots lately- yet Israeli Conservatism is a completely different “beast” of it’s own.

About the Author
I am a historian that concentrates on many different aspects of material history, but also Jewish history as a whole.
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