William F. Buckley was born ninety-six years ago today. Most people remember him for National Review, defining modern conservatism and fusing traditional conservatives and libertarians. One of Buckley’s most famous lines often used today is “support the rightward most viable candidate” for a given office” I remember and honor William F. Buckley for a different reason than most conservatives. William F. Buckley, a very observant Catholic, made it possible for Jews to feel welcome in the Conservative movement- something unthinkable in the ’50s and ’60s. William F. Buckley fought Antisemitism
From its initial issue in 1955, the National Review became the bible of conservative thought, but it was also void of the Jew-hatred that was a big part of the conservative movement. Conservative favorites such as aviator Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford were staunchly anti-Semitic, as were the post-war conservative anti-communist groups such as the John Birch Society and The Liberty Lobby. Buckley didn’t let those groups anywhere near his magazine and publicly denounced the John Birch Society and its leader Robert W. Welch, Jr.
From the early 1970s through the early 1990’s perhaps the leading conservative writer was Joseph Sobran, senior editor of the National Review. In 1993, Buckley fired Sobran for a series of columns that Buckley, Jr. labeled anti-Semitic. For example, Sobran’s favorite term for communism was “Jewish Bolshevism.”
In his 1991 essay, William F. Buckley gave former National Review contributor and presidential candidate Pat Buchanan the label he deserved, anti-Semite.
During the run-up to the first Iraq war, Buchanan said in part, “There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East-the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States,” And who was that “amen corner?” According to Buchanan, it was composed of people like A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Perle—all Jews. Buckley wrote an essay asking why Buchanan didn’t mention any famous Christian commentators who backed the war, such as James J. Kilpatrick, George Will, Frank Gaffney, and Alexander Haig?
Buchanan was also a holocaust denier. In a 1990 column for the New York Post, Buchanan wrote that 850,000 Jews couldn’t be killed by diesel exhaust fed into the gas chamber at Treblinka. He also defended Hitler. He said the allies over-reacted. That he had no intention of attacking the U.S. And continued by saying the Holocaust was the fault of the allies, “Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.”:
William F. Buckley had enough. In December 1991, after that first gulf war, William F. Buckley devoted an entire issue of the magazine to an essay titled “In Search of Anti-Semitism” (which was also the title of the book he later published on the same subject). In his 40,000-word article, Buckley took on Buchanan, who was preparing to run for President against Bush #41. As a slam toward his former columnist Buckley argued that being anti-Semitic made someone unqualified to be President. His piece finished with a damning conclusion,
“I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it: most probably, an iconoclastic temperament.”
Along with his support of American Jews, Buckley was a strong supporter of Israel. He was also a supporter and activist for freedom for Soviet Jews. Buckley’s support for the Jews trapped in the USSR came before many American Jews joined in the fight. The stragglers were worried support of the Soviet Jewry movement would lead to a conflict with the USSR.
As early as 1959, Buckley was speaking out publicly against the persecution of Soviet Jews. While his support of the issue was incited by his disdain of “Godless Communism,” He was talking about the issue long before anyone was really aware there was a problem becoming a politically beneficial position to take,” said Gal Beckerman, the author of “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” a history of the movement to liberate Soviet Jewry.
I often get asked why American Jewry leans to the left. There are many reasons. One of those reasons is that before William F. Buckley, conservatism was very anti-Semitic. Buckley led the effort to show America that conservative policies would save the country (helping elect Ronald Reagan). Buckley went way beyond that. The conservative leader fought against the anti-Semites in the movement and threw them out. As an intellectual with an extraordinary command of the English language, William F. Buckley’s writing not only said Jew-hatred was awful, but he made the haters look imbecilic.
Through his efforts and attacks on haters in the American conservative movement, Buckley pushed Antisemitism to the fringes of American politics. Anti-Semitism existed on the political fringes until it joined the Democratic Party of Barack Obama, Sadly it still exists there today.
William F. Buckley would have been 96 today. Many will justifiably celebrate him as one of the drivers of conservatism in America. I will never forget him as a man who fought Antisemitism, promoted Israel, fought for the oppressed Soviet Jews, and most importantly IMHO cleared the way for the conservative movement to welcome Jews.
Buckley fought Antisemitism, Buckley fought Antisemitism