In January 1957, National Review, then less than a year old, published a letter by Leo Strauss denouncing what he saw as the magazine’s anti-Israel stance and arguing that conservatives ought to support the Jewish state. Steven B. Smith extracts some important lessons for dealing with present-day assaults on Israel’s legitimacy:
Revealingly, Strauss never invokes the Holocaust as the reason for Israel’s existence. He refuses to treat causes that either highlight Jewish weakness or appeal to European guilt. If Israel is to stand, it must stand on its own two feet, that is, from sources within its own tradition.
The best reply to the deniers and delegitimizers is a serious engagement with the founding texts of Zionism—Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Aḥad Ha’am, Vladimir Jabotinsky. These are to Israel’s lifeblood what the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers are to American self-understanding. Strauss points to the conditions of human dignity that can be attained only by a self-governing people capable of determining their fate while remaining loyal to their heritage. Israelis and, just as important, Americans trying to defend Israel must never shrink from this task.