Dave Rubin’s journey

The Rubin Report grew into one of the most-watched political shows on YouTube with an estimated 1.41 million subscribers.

Dave Rubin in his broadcast studio (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dave Rubin in his broadcast studio
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“My message is think for yourself,” says YouTube political commentator Dave Rubin. “Don’t believe something is right just because someone told you so. Do some research… do what Jews have done for thousands of years, which is debate all of these things. Don’t be afraid of debates and arguments, that’s the beauty of life.”
Born in Brooklyn on June 26, 1976, Rubin’s journey from left-leaning progressive to classical liberal was certainly not a conventional one. From stand-up comedian and working a spectrum of odd jobs, Rubin would go on to host one of the most-watched political shows on YouTube, as well as become a New York Times bestselling author. Rubin recounts how he went to Hebrew school growing up, prepared for his bar mitzvah ceremony and enjoyed Shabbat dinners with his “extremely American Jewish family.” “We celebrated all the Jewish holidays and still do,” says Rubin. “Our lives centered around community and family. We would talk and argue about stuff. I think in many ways that’s a uniquely Jewish thing. Like the saying goes... you have three Jews at the table, you have four opinions!” Rubin describes how arguments about politics and discussions centered around Israel would play a prominent role in his family’s life.
“My parents actually met in Israel during the 1970s after college while working on a kibbutz” says Rubin. “My dad was up North and my mom was closer to Tel Aviv, but they eventually met while teaching English, and the rest is history.” Since first visiting the country in 1997, Israel would play a prominent role in Rubin’s life. That year, Rubin would spend a semester at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. More than a decade later, Rubin would celebrate his sister’s wedding in the city of Jaffa, and has visited Israel four times since then.
“I consider Israel to be an absolute miracle,” Rubin says enthusiastically. “Jews did what all humans aspire to do, which is dream something and then create it. They [Jews] returned to where they were from and have relentlessly tried to make peace with their neighbors. Israel helps people all over the world by sharing its technology and medicine even with their enemies.”
“That doesn’t mean its flawless, of course it’s not,” says Rubin. “But when you single out this absurdly tiny country and ignore everything else that is going on in the world, there is a problem. Nobody is saying it is antisemitic to criticize Israel. There are 50 Muslim-majority countries in the world, and even more are Christian. If you only want to boycott the Jewish nation, then that is antisemitism. Then you have [US Rep.] Ilhan Omar, who is against boycotting anybody except the Jews.” For Rubin, the cause of this growing antisemitism in the Democratic Party stems from radical progressive leftists like Omar.
“The Democratic Party has been rotting completely on the inside by the progressives,” says Rubin. “The future of the party seems to be this radical socialist base that believes for one group to succeed, another has to fail. This is why I think there is a deep anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment by people that are true antisemites. This is not a term I use lightly, but Omar, [Rep.] Rashida Tlaib and Linda Sarsour... these are people who have been embraced by [former Democratic Presidential nominee Sen.] Bernie Sanders.” According to Rubin, this antisemitism from progressive Democrats ties into his wider criticism of the American left’s hostility towards liberal values.
“Progressives go on and on about indigenous rights, well... where do you think Jews came from?” Rubin continues. “Jews do not fit in the progressive box. The reason for that is Jews are successful. Jews care about education and hard work. They are the outsider that have succeeded and the Left cannot tolerate that anymore. This is not liberalism. From a liberal perspective, you want everyone to succeed regardless of their history or immutable characteristics. The progressives need oppressed groups to keep being oppressed, otherwise their whole worldview doesn’t fit.” Both politics and comedy would intertwine in order to distinguish Rubin’s brand of political commentary. In 1998, Rubin earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SUNY Binghamton. That same year, he started a career in comedy doing stand-up in New York City where he became an intern at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. During his six-month internship, Rubin would perform duties such as “buying gum for Dave Chappelle, getting a six-pack of O’Doul’s alcohol-free beer for George Carlin, and picking up tacos for Stephen Colbert.” Published earlier this year, Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason, Rubin’s book is partially autobiographical, as well as a political manifesto wherein he advocates for his brand of classical liberalism. Rubin’s call for rational discourse amid a highly polarized climate is peppered with his distinctive sense of humor throughout the narrative. In his book, Rubin describes his political awakening as a second “coming out” – the first of which was when he came out as gay in 2006. In December 2014, Rubin became engaged to producer David Janet (who is also Jewish) and they married the following year under a huppah.
Rubin’s political awakening would come in several stages. It began in 2013 while he was working at The Young Turks (a progressive left-wing network), when its owner launched an attack against a conservative commentator named David Webb. Webb, an African-American, was described by the host as an “Uncle Tom of the conservative movement” who betrayed his ethnic roots. Webb was actually a friend of Rubin’s – the two previously worked together at SiriusXM radio – and Rubin was disgusted by these racist attacks by the head of a network who was purportedly anti-racist.
The second stage was the backlash against neuroscientist and author Sam Harris after an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher in 2014, during which he criticized a number of Islamic doctrines. Rubin was struck by actor Ben Affleck’s visceral reaction against Harris, accusing Harris of being racist against Muslims.
Despite Maher and Harris being iconic voices of the political Left for years, as well as being outspoken atheists and highly critical of religion, Rubin was struck by their relegation as pariahs by fellow leftists for directing their emblematic criticism and irreverence against Islam. This seemed especially hypocritical due to the comparatively lack of outrage voiced when such criticisms was directed against Christianity or other religions.
The final stage took place in 2015, during the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, when the French satirical weekly newspaper published controversial depictions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Rubin could not understand why figures on the Left went as far to rationalize Islamist terrorism by criticizing the magazine for publishing these images, rather than defend the publication’s right to free speech.
Rubin became frustrated by what he describes as the progressive Left no longer upholding liberal values such as freedom of speech, limited government overreach in people’s lives and only judging individuals by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. After detailing his criticisms in a viral PragerU video titled “Why I Left the Left,” Rubin describes being castigated by former friends on the political Left and experiencing intense feelings of anxiety and stress to the point of suffering from hair loss.
“You can’t be afraid to say what you think,” exclaims Rubin. “If someone is trying to silence you, they are not the good guy. You’ve only got one life.”
The Rubin Report grew into one of the most-watched political shows on YouTube with an estimated 1.41 million subscribers, distinguishing itself by hosting guests representing a wide range of views from across the political spectrum. The format of the show is inspired in large part by the interview style of Larry King, whom Rubin describes fondly as his mentor and “a bonus grandfather.”
“My general belief is that what we are doing [on the Rubin Report] is something interesting and relevant with our guests, whether I agree with them or not,” says Rubin. “I always try to do the best I can to ask the right questions. I’ve certainly had guests that have gone off the deep end after I’ve had them on. Having a guest on is certainly not an endorsement of the positions they hold... but when I have people from the political Right like [co-founder of Paypal] Peter Thiel, [former governor of Ohio] John Kasich and [Florida senator] Marco Rubio, I treat them with the same respect as I would guests from the political Left like [Democratic Primary candidate] Andrew Yang, [Hawaii Rep.] Tulsi Gabbard and [American author] Marianne Williamson. My main goal is to sit down with them and try to figure out what they think.” Rubin would become part of what former op-ed staff editor of the Times Bari Weiss would popularize in her 2018 editorial as the “Intellectual Dark Web.” IDW is a diverse and informal group of commentators who oppose what they believe to be the dominance of identity politics, political correctness, partisan politics, cancel culture, and the establishment in higher education and the news media. Associated individuals of this group include: University of Toronto professor of psychology Dr. Jordan Peterson, counter-extremism activist Maajid Nawaz, American science writer Michael Shermer, philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, podcast host Joe Rogan, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and Sam Harris.
Another major theme in Rubin’s book is his attempt to reassure readers who are disillusioned with the American political Left that they are not alone, while also providing the tools needed to stand up against cancel culture (the phenomenon of promoting the “cancellation of people and brands due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic). In that spirit, Rubin along with his Israeli brother-in-law Assaf Lev launched Locals.com, which functions as a sort of intersection of Patreon, YouTube and other forms of social media. It is a network-based community subscription site, where digital creators can determine their own rules of conduct and monetary threshold for access. Rubin hopes that this venture can bypass the censorship and encroachments on free speech done by big tech companies.
“Essentially we are looking to create a safe digital home for content creators who don’t have to worry about censorship and toxic rhetoric that is frequent on big platforms like Twitter,” says Rubin. The platform itself aims to give more power to creators over their user-data, while its subscription-based model significantly cuts down on the problem of harassment by anonymous users. According to Rubin, this hostility in the digital and political spaces against an open exchange of ideas by the progressive left is intertwined with its attacks against the Jewish state.
“Something I always say to people” says Rubin “is that defending my liberal principles has become a conservative position. I would say to [American] Jews that they may have to reevaluate some of their premises. Just because your parents were Democrats does not mean you have to be a Democrat, which by the way is also true if your parents are Republicans. But the Democrats of today are not the same as those of the 1950s, and Jews need to realize this.”
The writer is the executive director for the Near East Center for Strategic Studies