last updated: October 27, 2015
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- Washington Post: Columnist
- Commentary: Former contributing editor
- Emergency Committee for Israel: Funding recipient
Jennifer Rubin is the controversial author of the Washington Post’s Right Turn blog, which is known for its deeply conservative take on U.S. politics as well as its promotion of militaristic U.S. foreign policies. Rubin has also contributed to a number of right-wing and neoconservative outlets, including Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, the Jerusalem Post, and Pajamas Media.
Rubin often writes on U.S. and Israeli security issues, using her Post perch to attack people she deems insufficiently hawkish in their support of the two countries. She has attacked Dennis Ross, a former Middle East adviser in the Barack Obama administration known for his decidedly “pro-Israel” advocacy, for being delusional in his willingness to work for Obama; criticized Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his opposition to the use of torture; accused Obama Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of “rank prejudice against American Jews” and accused him of anti-Semitism, despite evidence to the contrary; and charged Sarah Palin of losing her way on U.S. security policy after parting ways with “experienced neoconservative foreign policy advisers Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb.”
Rubin has been a vociferous critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, calling for a U.S. posture that relies on more or less across-the-board aggression. In one December 2013 post, Rubin pilloried the administration for withdrawing from Iraq, drawing down from Afghanistan, being reluctant to intervene in Syria’s civil war, and most especially for engaging Iran diplomatically, among other indignities. “It is hard to think of a major initiative or significant policy (not Russian reset, not Iran engagement, not bullying Israel about settlements) that worked,” Rubin fumed. “If ‘decline is a choice‘ as Charles Krauthammer and Robert Kagan say, this president is all in. The results are a more dangerous world for which we are under- or unprepared.”
Rubin has also argued for U.S. ground troops to be used in the fight against ISIS, which she says President Obama has “forsworn,”and she has criticized efforts to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, arguing they are part of an Obama White House policy of “soothing tyrants and avoiding conflict.”
Rubin’s confrontational style and apparent biases have earned her numerous critics. In August 2013, former Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton recommended in an open letter to incoming Post owner Jeff Bezos that Rubin be fired—“not because she’s conservative,” Paxton wrote, “but because she’s just plain bad.” Noting that “Rubin was the No. 1 source of complaint mail about any single Post staffer while I was ombudsman,” Pexton wrote that Rubin “doesn’t travel within a hundred miles of Post standards. She parrots and peddles every silly right-wing theory to come down the pike in transparent attempts to get Web hits. … Her columns, at best, are political pornography; they get a quick but sure rise out of the right, but you feel bad afterward.”
Rubin was particularly hostile to the Obama administration’s attempts to reach an agreement with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program, which Rubin flatly asserts is geared towards producing nuclear weapons—a position not shared by either the White House or the U.S. intelligence community. Like many of her neoconservative colleagues, Rubin characterized the diplomatic process as “appeasement,” even suggesting that progressives who supported the late 2013 P5+1 negotiations—and opposed imposing new sanctions while the talks were underway—were effect in league with Iran’s leaders. “The left is plainly engaged on this one,” she wrote in December 2013. “Attack sanctions proponents, toss multi-lateral resolutions overboard, cast those defending the international stance on Iran as being disloyal to the president and threaten dire consequences if Congress acts. It is the same line the mullahs advance.”
In a number of posts, Rubin praised congressional efforts to pass new sanctions (“Both [parties] are alarmed at a White House running toward appeasement,”she mused) while holding out hope that the Israelis might attack Iran on their own. “The world’s only superpower refuses to act like a superpower and resolutely defend the West,” Rubin complained in late 2013. “It may be the tiny Jewish state (albeit one with a first-rate military) in a sea of Arab lands that steps up to the plate to defend itself, its Sunni neighbors and the West.” Quoting directly from an Emergency Committee for Israel press release that same month, Rubin called on Congress to preemptively express support for any such Israeli attack. “Congress,” she quoted approvingly, “should make clear the United States will support Israel if Israel decides she must act to prevent a regime dedicated to her destruction from acquiring the means to do so.”
In October 2014, Rubin argued that the United States should send Israel bunker-busting bombs “along with an appropriate delivery system” in order “to get the Iranians’ attention.” In the event that Iran’s “attention” is not received and President Obama “refuses to assume the responsibility as leader of the Free World,” Rubin asserted “it will be up to Israel to act on behalf of the West.”
“Rubin surely believes that Israel can start the bombing, and the U.S. will have no choice but to act as a backstop,” responded Chris Rossini of the conservative Ron Paul Institute, adding: “The U.S. should remove itself from everyone else’s business in the Middle East. Israel should be completely responsible for its own actions. No backstops.”
Rubin lambasted the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal as being “as big a threat to Israel as any event since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.” She predicted at the time that Congress would reject the deal, saying: “There is a perverse sense of relief among the most fierce defenders of Israel and administration critics: Had the Iran deal been remotely reasonable, it would be hard to defeat.” She went on to claim that “it is not only possible but likely” that Congress would scuttle the agreement.”
When it became clear that Congress would not seek to block the deal, Rubin claimed that there was “no longer true bipartisan support for Israel.” She called for AIPAC to do some “real soul-searching” because while it has “claimed to deliver bipartisan support for Israel,” it “cannot … and did not, when it mattered most.” She added: “There is one party, the Republican Party, for whom support for Israel is a litmus test.”
Rubin was a staunch supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial March 2015 address to Congress challenging President Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran. “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with excessive graciousness toward his tormentor, gave a powerful, important address. His clarity and presence command our attention. When Obama sneered at a press avail that there was nothing new in Netanyahu’s remarks, he looked so very small, so very petty,” she wrote shortly after the speech.
In declaring her support for Netanyahu’s speech, Rubin also purported that U.S. diplomats negotiating with Iran did not have U.S. interests in mind, but rather Iran’s. “The speech was not aimed at the president, who is immune to reason, nor to the negotiators who suffer from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome, whereby they come to identify with their bargaining opponents more than the country they represent,” Rubin opined.
Rubin denounced as “far-left flunkies” members of Congress who skipped Netanyahu’s speech or who appeared to be unsympathetic during the speech. For example, she derided Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for not applauding devotedly enough for the Israeli Prime Minister. “Unenthused Rand Paul Lifelessly Applauds Bibi,” she wrote on Twitter, “almost like he has been faking his support for Israel until now.” Paul replied: “I gave the prime minister 50 standing ovations.”
Rubin has consistently attacked President Barack Obama, including on everything from health care reform to foreign policy, typically employing overstatement and personal aversion as the basis of her arguments. In a June 2012 entry that discussed Obama’s performance at the G-20, Rubin wrote: “Obama can’t even fake being competent and in command in international affairs. Obama is presiding over the decline of the U.S. everywhere, as [Charles] Krauthammer says, and no one much cares what he says. He is weakness and indecision personified. It is fair to say he is as adrift on foreign policy as he is on domestic affairs, maybe more. The full impact of his diminished importance on the world stage may not be apparent for some time. We hope it won’t come in the form of a smoldering Tel Aviv or a Taliban-run Afghanistan or China’s hegemony in Asia.”
At times, Rubin has appeared to cherry pick evidence to support rightist attacks on the Obama White House. A telling episode was her criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the September 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya. Rubin accused the administration with failing to anticipate the attack and obfuscating the extent of its mistakes. “This is not a ‘Who done it?’ but a ‘How did an entire administration become this incompetent and politicized?’” Rubin wrote in May 2013. “It’s trite but true: It starts at the top.”
To build her case, Rubin cited leaked emails by White House staff allegedly expressing an intent to tailor the administration’s talking points to minimize the responsibility of the State Department—whose employees were killed in the attack—for failing to heed warnings. However, in May 2013, journalist Jake Tapper reported that ABC News and the Weekly Standard had misrepresented the contents of the emails. “[W]hoever leaked [the emails] did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department’s desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department,” Tapper wrote. According to Tapper, officials were actually“trying to forge a general understanding of what the Obama administration was saying about the attack in Benghazi” in light of “misinformation” from Congress and some of the administration’s critics.
When Rubin repeated the disputed claim about the emails on CNN, she was challenged by contributor David Schuster, who called her claim “flat out wrong.” Rubin retorted that Schuster was merely reciting “Media Matters talking points,” referring to the liberal media watchdog group, and demanded that CNN “mute” him.In February 2013, Media Matters writer Simon Maloy flagged numerous false statements Rubin had made about the Benghazi incident and concluded that Rubin’s “lies about Benghazi are egregious to the point that her own paper is cleaning up after her.”
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Rubin frequently used her column to lavish praise on her favorite candidate, Mitt Romney, despite the fact that the candidate took positions often at odds with her own, including with respect to Israel. After Romney’s loss at the polls in November 2012, Rubin blamed an ineffective campaign and Romney’s inability to manage it properly. “Romney’s operation suffered from too many cooks in the kitchen, too much hesitation and too little creativity. For that the candidate ultimately bears responsibility. He did not direct a campaign with the single-minded focus needed to win, at least not until it was too late in the game.”
Some commentators argued that Rubin’s critical post-mortem seemed disingenuous. “At every opportunity,” wrote the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, “Rubin wrote favorably about Romney and his campaign. And she didn’t just get things wrong, sometimes absurdly, she always got them wrong in a way that redounded to Team Romney’s benefit. If her goal was striving to inform her right-leaning audience with the truth, she was an abject failure.” Added Friedersdorf, “And that, for all the months she was acting as America’s most reliable Romney sycophant, she actually thought his campaign was bumbling? … [Y]ou can’t compare her work during the campaign to her post-mortem without concluding that she deliberately misled her readers.”
After President Obama’s widely discussed May 2011 Middle East policy speech (as well as his follow up speech at AIPAC)—in which the president reiterated the long-standing U.S. policy that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should use Israel’s 1967 borders as the starting point for defining a future Palestinian state—Rubin predictably attacked the president in a series of blog posts, arguing that he ignored Israeli concerns, “slurred” President George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” and demonstrated once again that he is an “apt negotiator on behalf of the Palestinians and a thorn in Israel’s side.”
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress criticizing the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, Rubin expressed her desire for a U.S. president that is “as stalwart and articulate as Netanyahu.”She further described the Obama White House as the “most anti-Israel” in history for not meeting with Netanyahu and claimed that if the Obama administration and the rest of the world powers negotiating with Iran reached a nuclear deal, Obama “would go down in the annals of American foreign policy history as the worst commander in chief.”
Rubin also frequently targets Jews who support the Obama administration and exhibit “liberal” tendencies. For instance, Rubin cited the views of Josh Block of the Progressive Policy Institute as an example of why President Obama “must be very certain that liberal Jews will enthusiastically support him no matter what.” Quoting an email from Block in which he characterized Obama’s May 2011 AIPAC speech as “a strong reaffirmation of the US-Israel relationship,” Rubin lamented: “This is the sort of spin that pro-Israel Democrats use to justify voting for Obama.”
Discussing her penchant to attack “liberal Jews,” Ali Gharib wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review in late 2010, “Over the past year, Rubin has—at least four times—quoted, linked to, and endorsed Rachel Abrams’s notion that Jews in America have a ‘sick addiction’ (in Rubin and Abrams’s words) to the Democratic Party. When I asked Rubin about the phrase ‘sick addiction,’ she said her arguments against Jewish support for Democrats were clear from her writings, and cited a book by Norman Podhoretz (Abrams’s stepfather) called Why Are Jews Liberal? In his book, Podhoretz repeatedly laments the ‘stubborn attachment’ of Jews to the Democratic Party, but there is no mention of this being a sickness. There’s a difference there with regard to discourse: one approach aims to explain a lamentable phenomenon, the other seeks to deride it.”
Rubin was hired to write Post’s Right Turn blog in November 2010. Previously, Rubin had worked as a labor attorney in Los Angeles, as an editor at Pajamas Media, and as a contributor to Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog. Discussing her work, Commentary editor John Podhoretz wrote, “Jen has labored daily … never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything.”
In her introductory Right Turn column, Rubin wrote: “What do I believe in? For starters: American exceptionalism, limited government, free markets, a secure and thriving Jewish state, defense of freedom and human rights around the world, enforced borders with a generous legal immigration policy, calling things by their proper names (e.g. Islamic fundamentalism), and recapturing vocabulary (a ‘feminist’ is not the same as a pro-choice activist). Nearly all wisdom is found in the Godfather movies (no, not Part 3!) and the Torah. … I’m a harsh critic of racial preferences, the Middle East ‘peace process’ (which is short on peace-production), Keynesian economics, judicial imperialism, and liberal statism.”
The decision by the Washington Post to hire Rubin in November 2010 was the subject of heated discussion among inside-the-beltway observers. Explaining the move, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt wrote: “Jennifer will provide critical news coverage and commentary, with an exacting eye on conservative policy-making and Republican campaigns, pundits and politicians. From a conservative perspective, she also will cover a wide range of foreign and domestic issues and media controversies. We imagine her blog in some ways as a companion to Greg Sargent’s Plum Line, though of course with its own style and blend of reporting and analysis.”
A writer for the foreign policy blog Lobelog opined: “While the Post op-ed page still features some smart right-of-center commentary from Charles Krauthammer and George Will, Hiatt has also brought on board a number of party-line hacks like [Marc] Thiessen, Bill Kristol, Michael Gerson, and now Rubin. The fact that Rubin is intended as a counterpart to Sargent is also revealing about the way that ‘balance’ is understood in the mainstream media. Sargent certainly leans liberal, but he is also a very good reporter who breaks stories and is willing to criticize the Democrats; Rubin, by contrast, has no real experience as a reporter (as opposed to commentator) and has never met a Republican or Likud talking point she didn’t like. The dominant feature of Rubin’s politics, of course, is her ultra-hawkish Greater Israel Zionism. … While she is quick to accuse Israel’s critics of anti-Semitism, Rubin is not so fond of actually existing American Jews, whom she views as unpatriotic and insufficiently supportive of Israel.”
Similarly, blogger Eli Clifton wrote: “Jennifer Rubin … claims that her blog offers coverage of ‘politics and policy’ for ‘conservative readers.’ But you’d be excused for thinking that her foremost interest is Israel’s conservative politics and policy.” Clifton cited Rubin’s participation in a February 2011 conference in Israel, which was supported by the William Kristol-led Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI). “The Washington Post’s claim that [Rubin] is representative of the conservative movement is deeply misleading,” wrote Clifton. “Her close relationship with ECI, her gleeful promotion of the ‘military option’ against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and her proclivity towards smearing her opponents as ‘Israel-bashing’ show that Rubin represents the interests and ideology of the hawkish, pro-Israel right-wing.”
Rubin’s writings have covered a broad range of issues, including everything from the tax cuts and Sarah Palin, to Virginia politics and immigration policy. But she is best known for her views on foreign policy and the Middle East, which are squarely ensconced in the hawkish right. Critiquing the tendency of some observers to call Rubin “conservative,” blogger Philip Weiss wrote, “Isn’t conservative a misnomer for neoconservative, and blind support for Israel? … She lives in the U.S. and writes for Commentary and thinks that all of Palestine belongs to the Jews, or some other hokum that rationalizes the killing of Palestinian noncombatants at a rate of one every other day in the Jim Crow Jewish hinterland.”
Rubin’s Right Turn columns are often preoccupied with Israel, even when discussing U.S. domestic politics. For instance, Rubin contributed her voice to a chorus of other neoconservatives who have endeavored to enlist the support of Tea Party politicians, blogging in early December 2010, “The emergence of the Tea Party, a grassroots movement on the right dedicated to fiscal discipline, set up a potential conflict in the Republican Party between hawks and neo-isolationists. As things have panned out, however, the neo-isolationists have largely been routed. This is nowhere more in evidence than with regard to support for Israel.” She then quoted an unnamed “senior Senate aide” who told her, “This is a freshmen class of Republicans whose pro-Israel credentials are beyond dispute by anyone except fierce partisan Democrats and liberal journalists with anti-GOP blinders.”
Rubin has also used her Right Turn blog to venerate neoconservative figures and groups. In one entry, she discussed the work of neocon Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman, lauding his efforts to pressure the Obama administration on Iran (although she questioned how he would be able to “pivot” from his focus on sanctions to “a more robust approach that may include the use of force”) and Israeli-Palestinian peace, particularly his efforts to get President Obama to drop the insistence on freezing settlement growth.
In another entry, titled “Time to pull the plug on UN Human Rights Council,” Rubin highlighted “a recent accomplishment” of the Geneva-based UN Watch, a controversial “monitoring” organization led by Hillel Neuer that generally spends its time denouncing the Human Rights Council for its alleged anti-Semitism. Citing a campaign by UN Watch to “out” a UN official because of his purported anti-Israel bias, Rubin wrote, “Now, here’s a meaningful move the House Republican leadership could make in the foreign policy realm: Urge the administration to pull out of the [Human Rights Council] and prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from being used to support it.”
Rubin has also written in support of so-called Christian Zionists groups that espouse views closely in line with those of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party regarding Israeli claims to Palestinian territory. In an August 2010 article for the Weekly Standard titled “Onward, Christian Zionists,” Rubin heralded the work of the right-wing Christian pastor John Hagee and his group Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Describing CUFI’s annual conference, she wrote, “In Washington, D.C.’s convention center they danced the horah, sang Hebrew songs, and waved American and Israeli flags. Charlie Daniels played Hatikvah on his fiddle. It wasn’t a bar mitzvah, or a gathering of the pro-Israel group AIPAC. It was the fifth annual summit of an even larger pro-Israel organization, the nation’s largest: Christians United for Israel, better known as CUFI.” She described Hagee as “a charismatic preacher with a sonorous baritone voice. At the banquet, he held the crowd spellbound, explaining Israel’s plight and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. He reminded the crowd that John F. Kennedy went to Berlin at the height of the Cold War, “an outpost of democracy in a sea of tyranny.”
Rubin used the article to explain why, from the neoconservative perspective, it was important to maintain close relationships between the American Jewish community and the Christian Right. Although “among Jews, there remains some skepticism and some outright hostility” towards CUFI, wrote Rubin, she cited Hagee’s view that there had been “progress among those Jews whose support for Israel is grounded in their faith.” She than cited the much maligned former George W. Bush official and convicted Iran Contra principal Elliott Abrams, who said: “American Jews ought to notice that there are actually more evangelicals in this country than Jews by about 20 or 30 to 1. With the Jewish population shrinking as a percentage of the American people, Christians are an increasingly critical base of support for Israel—and groups like CUFI are begging us to accept their help. We should accept it with gratitude and enthusiasm.”
Rubin also sought to frame the 2014 midterm elections in the United States as ushering in Republican candidates who “ran on a tough foreign policy, opposition to the White House’s treatment of Israel, increasing defense spending and standing up to the world’s bullies.” However, exit polls revealed that only 13 percent of voters listed foreign policy as a “top issue” for them.
Rubin has also expressed support for hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been rumored to be a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. She said of Graham in January 2015: “If being right is the criterion, Graham has been right about more things on foreign policy for longer than just about anyone in the race.”
Despite her strident support for rightist groups, Rubin has at times opposed some of the rhetoric espoused by far right groups and individuals. For instance, in a March 2007 article for Politico, she harshly criticized conservative writer Ann Coulter, who Rubin said “has made a career of interspersing insightful and cutting political criticism with outrageous and morally repugnant remarks.” Highlighting some of Coulter’s more divisive comments—like her infamous comment at a Conservative Political Action Conference that “our motto should be post-9-11, ‘rag head talks tough, rag head faces consequences’”—Rubin wrote, “It’s about time for a presidential contender, perhaps all of them in the spirit of Newt Gingrich’s crusade for improving public discourse, to say ‘enough.’ Coulter’s never-ending stream of venom is not amusing, unhelpful to Republicans, and not in keeping with the ideals of a party that fancies itself as the proponent of a colorblind society and heir to Lincoln.”