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December 20, 2017 12:02 pm

We Must Tell the Stories of Non-Jews Serving in the IDF

avatar by Jonathan Elkhoury

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A delegation from Reservists on Duty presenting at Chabad of Stanford. Photo: Chabad of Stanford.

Israel boasts a diversity of religious, ethnic and political thought. It is home to many Christians, Muslims and Druze, who take pride in their Israeli identities. In the past, these men and women from minority groups have been pressured into silence by the Middle Eastern media, but they have increasingly been public about their opinions.

As an Israeli-Lebanese Christian — and the son of a South Lebanese Army officer — I’ve been active in encouraging Israeli-Christian youth to enlist in the IDF, or to take part in national service. But when I heard the falsehoods about my country being peddled by boycott groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, I knew that I had to expand the scope of my activism.

Israel’s minorities are cynically exploited by anti-Israel propagandists, so it became my hope that a group of minority activists would be able to counter these lies by sharing their personal stories. However, I’ve found that for Israeli minorities, speaking out and braving harassment at home is far from the only hurdle to telling the truth abroad. We also have to find people willing to listen. Unfortunately, such people seem to be in short supply.

This October, I led a delegation of Israeli minority activists on a lecture tour in the US, coordinated by the group “Reservists on Duty.” Our delegation originally planned to speak at 13 universities — in collaboration with the Students Supporting Israel movement in the US. We expected to be received with open arms by academic institutions and organizations, as their representatives have often expressed support for minority voices and diversity.

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And diverse our delegation was. Mohammed Kabiya is a Muslim Israeli-Bedouin air force veteran who advocates for the integration of Bedouin youth into the IDF. Ram Asad is an Israeli-Druze ex-combat soldier. Bassem Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist from Beit Hanina. And an Israeli-Muslim woman rounded out the team.

Before we left, we announced our tour in a news article, explaining our reasons for embarking on the journey. And we weren’t surprised when Middle Eastern media outlets tried to discredit us. They used all the familiar tricks: They claimed that we were converts to Judaism, that we were being coerced, or even that we were paid Mossad agents.

The Middle Eastern media was unable to intellectually digest that anyone could hold our views, with our backgrounds. What we didn’t expect was the misrepresentation, slander and deplatforming that we experienced in the US. Being silenced in the Middle East is one thing, but it was shocking to have the same thing happen in the United States.

Less than 24 hours before our first event at Stanford University, the Stanford Israel Association cancelled on us. The stated reason was: “The ‘Reservists on Duty’ Event is provocative and could cause fear amongst the students.” Stanford Hillel stood by this decision.

The pattern continued with the Hillel at Columbia University. After initially expressing concern about our panel, they abruptly came to the conclusion that they “didn’t have time” for our event. Around the same time, the Princeton Hillel canceled an event with the Israeli deputy foreign minister. These cancellations were even more disturbing to me than when an anti-Israel activist tried to attack Bassam Eid at the Lincoln Square Synagogue.

What’s troubling is the clear trend of academic institutions and organizations silencing dissenting voices. Like in the Middle Eastern media, it seems that the opinions of minorities are only accepted if they bow to the company line.

There’s nothing to “fear” about people trying to share testimony countering lies — unless one fears the truth. There’s nothing that should be controversial about minorities telling their stories — unless it’s controversial to contrast one’s own experience with the rest of the Middle Eastern minority experience. And there’s nothing provocative in calling for an end to the exploitation of minorities for propaganda purposes. Our minority delegation is an important tool for open dialogue, and exposing the standard lies about Israel.

We are now planning another tour, which will include locations across North America and Europe. We can no longer remain silent in the face of the lies being hurled against us. We will tell our stories — and the truth of the country that protects us. All we ask is for people to be willing to listen to what we have to say.

Jonathan Elkhoury, an Israeli Lebanese-Christian, works with “Reservists on Duty” and is also active in encouraging the Christian youth in Israel to serve in the IDF or to do national service, to contribute to their community.

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