A group of Israeli Arabs spoke at Israeli American Council (IAC) Los Angeles event at American Jewish University on Sunday evening explaining how their life experiences in Israel debunk the notion that Israel is an apartheid nation.
The event, titled Arabs Breaking The Silence, kicked off with Adam Milstein, the chairman of the IAC’s board of directors, explaining that anti-Semitism has been on the rise over the past 30 years cloaked in anti-Zionist rhetoric. Such rhetoric has spawned movements calling for protests against Israel.
“Every citizen is being affected by the boycotts,” said Milstein, noting people of every creed in Israel lose jobs as a result of the boycotts.
Milstein added that Israel “is the best place for any minority in the Middle East” and that the minorities “are the most affected by the boycotts.”
Jonathan Elkhoury, the minorities coordinator for the Reservists on Duty in Israel, followed Milstein by explaining that Reservists on Duty was founded by members of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) who seek to dispel the myths promulgated by the likes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“We are bringing …reservists from the IDF to colleges across the states,” said Elkhoury, pointing out that they aim to counter events on campuses like Apartheid Week.
Elkhoury proceeded to show a video of Reservists on Duty confronting the anti-Zionist groups on UC Irvine in May 2017 in which the anti-Zionist protesters hail the intifada and accuse Israel of “genocide.” However, when the Reservists on Duty began asking penetrating questions that disrupted their narrative, the anti-Zionist movement leaders told their members not to engage with them and even cussed out the Reservists on Duty.
“We need to be there in every place,” said Elkhoury.
The next speaker was Dema Taya, an Arab Muslim who has defended Israel on Arab media. Taya recalled how she learned to accept differences with others when she lived with British family for three years while in school, and that Israel is in a fact a country that is tolerant of these differences. She referred to Israel as “a city of love” where “nobody is above the law” and “you can express your opinion without anybody bothering you.”
And yet, some Arabs are irked by Taya’s outspoken defense of Israel.
“Some Arabs open their mouth and start saying you are cheating and you are not a good person… just because I’m saying the truth,” said Taya.
Taya added that some Arabs called her a traitor to Islam for defending Israel.
“Who gives you the right to start talking, ‘You are going to hell’, ‘you are going to Heaven?’” said Taya, pointing out that only God decides that.
Taya refuses to back down in face of such criticism.
“They are attacking me because I’m a woman and in their ideology they think women are weak,” said Taya.
Taya pointed out that many countries are starting to realize how Israel can be beneficial to them, as medicine, agriculture, water and innovation in general are thriving in the Jewish state. Israel gives medical aid to those who have been harmed by the Syrian conflict and those in Gaza that come to their hospitals.
Following Taya was Ram Asad, a Druze man who used to be an Israeli combat soldier. Asad explained that Israel was the first country to recognize the Druze as a free and independent people and they eventually formed an agreement with the Israeli government to serve in the IDF.
Asad’s father and five of his uncles served in the IDF as paramilitary troopers and his father decided to establish “The Druze Sons Trail Race” to honor the memory of fallen Druze soldiers.
Asad is now currently a student at Haifa University, and he told the audience that he doesn’t have any friends in Israel because he has “only brothers because we love each other.”
The next speaker was Mohammad Kabiya, a strategic IDF consultant who is an Israeli Bedouin. According to Kabiya, there are “thousands of Beduins serving in the army.” Kabiya was the only one in his Coptic Christian high school who said that he wanted to serve in IDF, although he ended up serving in the Israeli Air Force.
Kabiya noted that the Israeli Air Force’s “mission was to save lives” and that they would take Palestinians from Gaza to get treated at Israeli hospitals.
Kabiya also used to work at Israeli checkpoints, and pointed out that there are 80,000 Palestinians working Israel legally and 150,000 working there illegally.
Israel and America are alike in terms of their support of free speech, but Kabiya has noticed one difference between the two countries in that regard.
“We in Israel have more free speech on campuses,” said Kabiya.
Elkhoury spoke again and shared his story. Elkhoury was originally born in Lebanon, but he and his family were forced to flee after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.
“They [Hezbollah] started taking soldiers from the South Lebanon Army,” said Elkhoury, noting that Hezbollah hold them captive and even throw them off buildings.
Elkhoury’s father had served in the South Lebanon Army, so he fled to Israel while the remainder of Elkhoury’s family stayed behind. But it eventually grew unsafe for them in Lebanon, so they fled to Israel. It was difficult for Elkhoury to adapt there at first, since they weren’t accepted by the Arab community for leaving Lebanon and they weren’t Jewish, but Elkhoury has assimilated into Israeli society and even did national service for two years.
“I’m proud to say I’m Lebanese, but I’m Israeli,” said Elkhoury. “I’m Christian. I’m part of the people of Israel.”
Elkhoury then showed a video of all kinds of people – Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc. – eating food at Mahane Yehuda Market, the point being that people of all religions and backgrounds were able to enjoy food together at an Israeli market, something that would not be happening if Israel were an apartheid state.
During the question and answer period, Elkhoury pointed out that the rhetoric coming from the likes of BDS on college campuses is then used as ammunition against Israel in the United Nations, yet these same people have never actually set foot in the Jewish state.
“They are only based on lies, but lies don’t have feet on the ground and they will crumble,” said Elkhoury.
Elkhoury added that the anti-Zionists “are afraid that our message is going to get out,” which makes it all the more important to “stand proudly and support Israel because this is what you believe in.”