An anti-imperialist father and his American diplomat son

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Robert Malley speaks at a diplomatic conference in Madrid, Spain, in 2011. (photo: Paul White / AP)
In an unpublished lecture from 2008, Rob Malley, the new Iran envoy, wrestles with his father’s legacy of Arabist anti-imperialism.  An introduction by Peter Beinart provides additional commentary.

By Robert Malley |  Jewish Currents  |  Feb 4, 2021

My father was, dare I say, an awakened Arab or one who, at a minimum, awoke in me an interest in his part of the world.

THE ONE THING we know for sure is that he was born in Cairo. He left us with few other certainties. His parents appear to have originally hailed from Aleppo, moving to Egypt at the turn of the last century. There is good reason to believe he was born in the 1920s, though as for the precise year or day, one could trust either one’s imagination or his word—the former often proving more reliable than the latter. His old Egyptian passport indicates a birth date of May 25th, 1923, but he had more than one—passports as well as birthdays.

He also was Jewish, though the principal effect of his Judaism seems to have been that it provided him added reason to be an Arab nationalist of the fiercely secular, anti-Zionist sort. His life choices were dictated, one senses, by restrictions he faced as a Jew born in an Arab land. He embraced a strong Arab nationalistic worldview and I can’t recall him ever evincing much understanding for or even desire to understand Israelis and their state. He moved to America, but had no patience for the US either, whose foreign policy he denounced with relish and sometimes abandon. Once he’d had enough, he moved his entire family to France; his writings managed to so offend its then-president that, some 11 years later, he was forcefully expelled and put on a plane back to the US, from where he flew directly to Geneva, never even stepping out of Kennedy airport. In the interim, he had turned his back on his homeland as well, breaking his emotional ties with Egypt the moment Egypt had forged its political ties with Israel. I believe he returned there only twice since, both times as a tourist with his family, and both times marked less by affection than by a remote, confused, and guilty form of nostalgia.

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