Category Archives: Martin Kramer

Martin Kramer on Palmyra and Bernard Lewis on his 99th birthday

Photo: Caravan on the Great Colonnade in Palmyra, 1900, by Gertrude Bell

ISIS in Palmyra (Tadmor) reminded me of an evocative passage from Rose Macaulay’s still-marvelous ‘Pleasure of Ruins” (1953):

The incursive Arabs, now in possession, have not had the energy or the means to build their own world upon the ruins of the old; they accept the dead cities as nothing strange, the dead cities of Greece, Seleucia, Rome and Byzantium, brooding like ghosts over desert and mountain and fertile valley, from Antioch and Aleppo in the north to Wadi Araba in the far south, while among them the great crusaders’ castles ride the desert like moored battleships.”

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Today, Bernard Lewis marks his 99th birthday.

In May 1916, Sykes and Picot concluded their agreement to partition the Ottoman Empire, and Bernard Lewis came into the world.

Bernard has proved to be more enduring.

Daniel Pipes and I visited him at his home outside Philadelphia in February, and Daniel took this photo: right to left, Buntzie Churchill (Lewis’s companion who assisted him with his memoirs), Bernard, and myself. Bis hundert und tzvantzig—until 120!

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Martin Kramer: Radicals Strap Suicide Belt on MESA

The membership of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has now passed a resolution taking the organization well down the road to endorsing the academic boycott of Israel. The resolution, which passed by a 561–152 margin, urges “MESA program committees to organize discussions at MESA annual meetings, and the MESA Board of Directors to create opportunities over the course of the year that provide platforms for a sustained discussion of the academic boycott and foster careful consideration of an appropriate position for MESA to assume.”

It isn’t too difficult to imagine just what sort of campaign the Israel-haters will launch during this “sustained discussion,” or where it’s likely to lead. And the overwhelming margin in favor of the resolution suggests that this is just where most MESAns want to go.

The vote constitutes a stunning defeat for MESA’s old guard. They invested decades in building MESA as the world’s preeminent professional organization for Middle Eastern studies, and they did it by maintaining at least a façade of scholarly neutrality. That MESA might blow itself up in a suicidal attempt to inflict some (marginal) political damage on Israel is a danger they repeatedly warned against in the closed online members’ forum that preceded the vote…

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Martin Kramer on Barry Rubin’s Improbable Journey

Kramer: Today is one year since the passing of Barry Rubin, scholar and friend. I knew him for thirty-five years. I offer an appraisal of his remarkable journey, which began on the anti-Zionist left, and of his prodigious writings on the Middle East.

barry-rubinToday, February 3, marks one year since Barry Rubin, scholar and friend, lost his bout with an aggressive cancer. He was sixty-four. The many tributes published upon his passing celebrated him as a prolific and passionate advocate for his adopted country, Israel, and as a tireless scholar who generated a steady flow of writings and an astonishing array of initiatives: a think tank, several journals, and many conferences. His highly regarded expertise made him the go-to source on the Middle East for journalists, diplomats, and some Israeli public figures.

This was Barry Rubin, the finished product. Had you told me thirty-five years ago, when I first met him, that he would become not only “one of the great intellectual defenders of Israel,” but an Israeli, I would have dismissed you. Nothing would have seemed so improbable…


Martin Kramer was one of the first writers I encountered as started to read about the Middle East after 9/11.  

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