(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Barry Rubin, a dear friend and colleague, passed away on Monday after a battle with cancer. He was far too young.
Everybody interested in the field of contemporary Middle East studies knew of Barry Rubin. He was an incredibly prolific writer with a remarkably comprehensive understanding of this region. He authored at least 20 books, published by the most reputable publication houses, such as Cambridge, Yale and Harvard. I recall watching him type at lightning speed and could not believe my eyes. He had the whole text in his head and smoothly transformed it into an article or book without hesitation.
Barry wrote about a variety of subjects and themes. His endless curiosity led him to write about everything from espionage in the Middle East during World War II (the unforgettable Istanbul Intrigues), American policies toward the Middle East, the history of the PLO, a biography of Arafat, modern Syria, the Middle East predicament (which he referred to as “a tragedy”), Egyptian Islamists, Israeli politics and so much more. His many works remain an indispensable tool for students and researchers. In final analysis, his books and articles – written very clearly, well-argued, and jargon-free – are his greatest monument.
Barry’s interests took him beyond the Middle East as well. He authored a seminal book on dictators in the Third World. In search of his Jewish identity, he wrote a book about Jewish assimilation, and he researched his roots in the Eastern European shtetl of Dolhinov.
Barry had an illustrious career. He was the recipient of numerous awards, grants and fellowships. His articles were published in the most prestigious newspapers.
He was also a well-sought-after Middle East analyst on radio and TV programs across the globe.
From 1996-2002, I had the good fortune of working with Barry, when he served as deputy director at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
During this time, I accumulated many “Barry hours,” and discovered an extraordinary personality.
Barry was hardworking and used his time judiciously for writing quality analyses. This was his passion and he was very good at it. He had a curious mind and discussions with him were invariably a fascinating intellectual experience.
PARTICULARLY STRIKING was his encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of subjects beyond the politics and cultures of the Middle East, including world history, English literature, trains and culinary cultures. Traveling abroad with Barry was always a learning experience, as he could lecture about the history and cultures of so many different places.
Barry was also very creative, a characteristic from which the BESA Center benefited. For example, in 1997, he pioneered an Internet journal called The Middle East Review of International Affairs, long before anybody else realized the power and potential of webbased academic publications.
Commitment to truth was another important trait in Barry’s complex personality.
When he eventually came to the conclusion that the Palestinians were not going to be a partner for peace with Israel, or when he (quite early on) identified US President Barack Obama as promoting a misguided foreign policy, he did not hesitate to voice his assessments boldly. Barry never gave in to the political correctness that is suffocating much of academic life in Israel and abroad.
Alas, Barry was a rugged individualist, and consequently he had difficulties in adjusting to Israeli academic structures.
He also was somewhat eccentric (he owned, for example, a red sports car; sported big, out-of-style hats; and often got lost in Internet cafes). He spoke a funny Hebrew and was very impatient with stupid or anti-Israeli people.
But those who were close to Barry Rubin knew that he was good-natured and very generous with his time and money. He was a dear friend to many.
Finally, Prof. Barry Rubin was a true Zionist. He loved his adopted country and defended it assiduously against its detractors. While he remained very American until his last day, he nevertheless built his home in Israel, married his wife in Israel, and raised two Sabra children in Israel.
Farewell, Barry. I will miss you.
The author is the director of the Begin-Sadat Center (BESA) for Strategic Studies, Professor of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University, and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.