Joel Rubin, a Pittsburgh native and Maryland congressional candidate, returned to Carnegie Mellon University last week to discuss professional endeavors undertaken since graduating from the university’s Heinz College in 1998.
Seated beside John Flattery, director and distinguished service professor of Heinz College in Washington, D.C., Rubin detailed nearly 20 years of public service. Rubin said that after Heinz he worked as a Presidential Management Fellow and civil servant at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Energy, the Department of State and then eventually joined J Street.
Rubin told the 50 student attendees that he had come to CMU to study sustainable development, “but the political environment can have an incredible impact on the work we do.”
Rubin’s example was that while at USAID and the Energy Department he managed a national solar energy program. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, while speaking at a D.C. hotel, Rubin heard a plane overhead. After seeing that the Pentagon had been struck, he had a realization.
“For me growing up as a Jewish kid, I was always aware of terrorism. They came to my town, I need to do more,” he said.
Following 9/11 Rubin moved up to the State Department and worked on economic development in the Middle East. Afterward, he became founding political and government affairs director of J Street, an organization self-described as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people.”
Rubin said his rationale for joining J Street was to increase debate: “On the heels of the Iraq War, I felt it was incredibly important not to have a truncated debate about Israel and what was going on in Israel. As an American Jew, it is incumbent upon me to untangle the knot that has surrounded Israel.
“AIPAC has generally controlled the debate over U.S.-Israel policy and support,” he continued. “My learned experience is that the idea of not having a debate about peace is anathema to Israel.”
His decision to leave the State Department and join J Street was challenged, he claimed.
“I was told by many people that you’ll fail, kill your career, be blackballed,” he said.
Nonetheless, Rubin ignored his critics and continued working with the organization.
“Maybe it’s the aggressive Jewish nature in me,” he told students.
Years later, after having successfully lobbied Congress to support the Iran deal, Rubin is confident that his work with J Street was successful.
“At J Street we’ve taken on a big issue, and we’ve won. The biggest challenge was getting Democrats on board,” he said. “I argued that it was pro-Israel to have a situation with Iran to have them agree not to have a bomb, and not to bomb them inchoately.”
Flattery, who directed much of the dialogue between Rubin and attendees, called Rubin courageous and added, “There is an element of personal courage. He put his career at risk. It’s not a popular thing to do in Washington. I wanted the students to hear that.”
Rubin hopes that his J Street efforts aid his bid to represent Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in Congress.
“I’m a fighter with a track record of success,” he said, “and J Street is an example of that.”
Even so, Rubin claimed that he is not running as “a foreign policy guy.”
Instead, to the one student in attendance who is registered to vote in that upcoming election, Rubin briefly described his stance on domestic issues, such as increasing minimum wage.
Rubin then addressed the entire gathering and said, “You have your adversary, your ally and the undecided, and if you’re not advocating to the undecided, your adversary will be.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.