U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia: Who Is Daniel Rubinstein?

Sunday, October 11, 2015
Daniel Rubinstein

The nomination of Daniel Rubinstein, a long-time Foreign Service officer and Arab expert, as the next ambassador to Tunisia was announced June 8, 2015, by the White House. If he’s confirmed, it will be his first official ambassadorial post and second tour in Tunisia.


Rubinstein was born in 1967. He grew up in the Los Angeles area where his father, Moshe, who was previously an Air Force chaplain, was rabbi at Valley Beth Israel in Sun Valley. Rubinstein went to college at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1989 with a BA in Political Economy of Industrial Societies, after which he joined the Foreign Service.


Rubinstein’s early assignments were in Brasilia, Brazil; Damascus, Syria; Tunis, Tunisia; Luanda, Angola; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Baghdad, Iraq. In 2004, he was made director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs. Rubinstein was sent back to the Middle East the following year as Deputy Chief of Mission in the embassy in Amman, Jordan. He also served as the Chief of the Civilian Observer Unit in the Multinational Forces and Observers in Sinai, Egypt.


Beginning in 2009, he was consul general and chief of mission in Jerusalem. That facility acts as the U.S. mission to the Palestinian Authority. In September 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, went to the UN to seek full-member status based on frontiers established before 1967. Rubinstein threatened that the U.S. would take “punitive measures” by cutting off aid to Palestine and would veto the statehood recognition resolution in the UN Security Council. Palestine’s bid went nowhere at the time, but in 2012, with nine nations voting against it, including the U.S., the UN bumped up Palestine’s status from “permanent observer” to non-Member Observer State. (That’s the same status as the Vatican.) Rubinstein returned to Washington that year, his new assignment being principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.


In 2014, Rubinstein was made the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, dealing with the opposition to the Bashar Assad regime. Rubinstein replaced Robert Ford, yet wasn’t given Ford’s title of ambassador. Ford had taken a harsh approach toward Assad and was consequently targeted by pro-Assad forces.


Rubinstein’s approach with the insurgents against Assad might have been slightly different from Ford’s. Last year, McClatchy published a story outlining an approach made by anti-ISIS forces to Rubinstein, seeking support for battling the extremist group before it took over Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq. Rubinstein turned them away. Rebel officials, according to McClatchy, started referring to Rubinstein as “the complaint box,” saying he listens to all and never responds. “I think they empty it into the trash at the end of every day,” one rebel official said.


After leading the Obama administration’s Syria team for only a year, Rubinstein signaled that he wanted to move on. “Danny’s heart was with the Syrian struggle but he was just not empowered with a coherent policy that he could effectively explain to his Syrian interlocutors,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a former Syrian Opposition Coalition adviser, as reported in BloombergView. “He wasn’t set up for success by an administration that continues to view Syria as a side show rather than the main front in the fight against ISIS and Iranian expansion.”


Rubinstein speaks Hebrew, Portuguese and Arabic. He is married to Julie Adams, a fellow Foreign Service officer who was Commercial Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia in the early 2000s and helped U.S. firms gain a foothold in the Tunisian telecommunications sector, which traditionally had been dominated by other nations. The Rubinsteins have two sons, Jonah and Simon.


-Steve Straehley, Vicki Baker


To Learn More:

Official Announcement

Rebels: Obama Administration Ignored Early Plan to Stop Islamic State (by Roy Gutman, McClatchy)

Jewish Arabist is DC’s new envoy to Syria (by Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, Times of Israel)

State Department’s Syria Void (by Josh Rogin, BloombergView)

Report: U.S. Warns Palestinians (by Mackenzie Weinger, Politico)

Q&A: Palestinians’ upgraded UN status (BBC News)


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