The pro-Israel community lost a valuable friend and intellectual powerhouse yesterday with the passing of Prof. Barry Rubin. I never had the privilege of meeting him though I did exchange an email or two in the past and he was unfailingly polite, even to a very minor member of his audience.
Brian of London at Israellycool has a moving tribute to Prof. Rubin:
Despite numerous appearances on established media channels, he was tremendously excited by the opportunities available on blogs, podcasts and new media. In 2009 he chatted live to Israellycool readers giving direct insight on the Israeli election results as they came in.
Having met online at least a year before making Aliyah, we met up in person in Israel. Barry was an academic who loved to learn and listen. A chat over lunch with Barry was never an academic lecture, it was always an exchange with the feeling that all views could be changed or moved with persuasive arguments. I will always remember him apologising profusely before answering his mobile phone as we ate in a café round the corner from his home in Tel Aviv. This was what I overheard:
“Ahh hello Ambassador, no, sorry, now is not a good time, I’m in a meeting, can I get back to you? Yes, certainly thank you.”
Bumping an Ambassador is surefire way to make your lunch companion feel more important than they really are.
Whether he was talking about the details of Middle Eastern history, politics or current affairs, or the story behind the person named on any given street name in Israel, his knowledge was encyclopaedic and shared in an entertaining way. And when presented with new facts or stories, he lapped them up, always able to sort the information and bring back something new to fit with it and build up.
I will particularly remember him speaking of his journeys back in history to the American Civil War. To his weekends spent in muddy fields as a lowly foot soldier in the Union Army. He posted this tremendous story which we ran here. I love this story.
Elder of Ziyon has also written an obituary of Barry Rubin:
Barry was a staunch defender of Israel. His writings were accurate, clear and powerful. He didn’t mince words.
Rubin was also the director of the Gloria Center in Israel. Last year, I believe after his diagnosis, Rubin did the unthinkable – he placed 13 of his books on the website of the Gloria Center to be freely downloaded.
Fresno Zionism too has written a very good appreciation of Barry Rubin:
Barry had at least 18 books to his credit — most of them serious scholarly works. He also wrote hundreds, probably thousands, of scholarly and popular articles, blogs, etc. He edited journals, administered institutes, and spoke in venues around the world. His scholarly writing was nevertheless clear and approachable, even entertaining, without academic jargon. Sometimes he introduced his articles with quotations from popular movies and music, or Shakespeare’s plays.
Unlike many ‘authorities’ on the Middle East, his predictions were usually accurate. He knew the players, and had visited many of the countries. He had correspondents throughout the world. It bothered him that so many important people in government and academia who dealt with the region did not know the most basic facts about it (he used the word ‘idiots’).
Another thing that made him unhappy was the politicization of his field of Middle Eastern Studies. He remarked that when he was a student, he had teachers that strongly disagreed with his pro-Israel politics, but never allowed that to affect their evaluation of his work. Today, he thought, that would not be the case. And today, someone like Barry, despite his qualifications, would have a hard time being hired in a Middle East Studies department.
Barry’s approach was always fact-based analysis. He never fit his conclusions to an ideology, and he could be quite critical of Israel’s policies when he felt that was appropriate. He did not dislike Arabs or Muslims, and had many Arab friends. He did dislike ideologues and they disliked him. Those who cared about the truth respected him.
There is another obituary at the Jerusalem Post who quoted Rubin’s prescient words:
Upon being diagnosed with cancer in 2012, Rubin wrote:
“People always asked me why I wrote so much and so intensively. I never told them one of the real reasons: I always expected my life would be limited. My grandfathers died, respectively, at 42 and 44, both of things that could have been cured today. My father died of a heart attack at 62, and his life probably could have been extended many years today by all the new tests and drugs available. But I felt that once I passed that birthday, less than a year ago, I might be living on borrowed time.”
Readers of this blog will know how much I quoted Barry Rubin z”l and how much I relied on his wise words. The Jewish world, in fact the entire world, will be much poorer without him.
May his memory be for a blessing.
ברוך דיין אמת. יהי זכרו ברוך