On a night a few years ago, I sat by my computer well past the witching hour, emailing rapidly and copiously with Barry Rubin. The subject was a couple of American Jewish “peace” organizations and what could be done to counteract them, to expose their ignorance and dangerous folly.
I finally—I think it was getting on toward two—had to type, “Barry, got to close up shop” or something in that vein. I’m not, as Barry was, a person of infinite energy and if I don’t get my five hours (preferably more) of sleep, I feel lousy and sub-par the next day. For Barry, the hour was not an issue. We were discussing something potentially important, something that might help Israel, the Jewish people, and truth, and when it came to that—and a lot of other matters—his energy was boundless.
Barry Rubin, the American Israeli scholar and commentator who died in Tel Aviv this week at 64, published close to 20 books in his lifetime on subjects running from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Iran to anti-Americanism to Jewish dilemmas in the modern era—and much else, and two more books are forthcoming. He was also director of an Israeli research institute, editor of two scholarly journals (one on the Middle East, one on Turkey), Middle East editor of PJ Media—and again, much else as well.
By which I mean that, in recent years in particular, Barry Rubin was simply the most prolific writer of high-quality articles I was aware of in the world. If you were among the many thousands of people on his email list, you received—on almost every single day of the year—at least two, often three articles by him, lively, brilliant, and insightful, mostly on the Middle East but ranging widely into other topics as well. Reading all of them, for me at least, was impossible, but so was knowing which ones to pick, since they were uniformly excellent and worthwhile.
And to that one has to add still more—his constant vivacity on Facebook. I would stare in disbelief, not comprehending how he had time for this, too. Posting, drawing large numbers of comments, responding to the comments, and—my impression was that this was just about what he loved best—sharing his knowledge and insights with whoever wanted to look beyond the headlines, clichés, and distortions and get some real understanding of Israel and the Middle East.
Barry Rubin was a cosmopolitan intellectual who had, at the same time, a pure and total loyalty to the Jewish people and Israel. Though never considering himself a conservative, not enamored of settlements, not opposed in principle to a Palestinian state, he moved toward positions associated with the Israeli right because he knew the deeply troubled Middle East so well and refused to entertain illusions about it. He cared about Israel and truth, not about having an identity as a writer and thinker that may have been more comfortable and more propitious for him.
Things would be a lot better if there were more like him.
My last communication from him came a little less than a year ago. Having seen an article of mine in a personal vein, not at all related to Israel, the Middle East, or larger issues in the political sphere, he emailed me: “Absolutely magnificent and moving. Thanks.”
It’s something to treasure, a token of his huge generosity and connectedness to others.
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