Non-Jewish Israelis shared their stories of support for and service to Israel at an event hosted by ACCESS in Sandy Springs on Sunday, Feb. 25.
“Much of the Middle East conflict, the arguments become repetitive. People hear the same thing over and over again. So when you hear the same things from the same people with the same positions, it might blend together,” said Brandon Goldberg, one of the event chairs. “It’s not going to impact people as strongly because they’ve heard it before. This is something that folks have not heard before.”
Although ACCESS is the young professional division of American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta region, many of the roughly 60 attendees for the session with Reservists on Duty appeared to be older than 50.
The purpose of Reservists on Duty, a nonprofit founded in 2015, is to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement’s anti-Israel narrative by presenting the experiences of young members of Israel’s racial and ethnic minorities.
“Hopefully this will expand people’s understanding of what life is really like in Israel,” Goldberg said.
The reservists at the ACCESS event are Christian, Muslim or Druze representatives of Lebanese expat, Bedouin and Arab populations. All are Israeli citizens, and all served in the military or the civilian national service, as their cultures permitted.
They said stories of Israeli oppression of minorities do not reflect their lives, and their military experiences have not included crimes against Palestinians. Minorities in Israel, citizens or not, are treated with dignity, they said.
Jonathan Elkhoury, the founder and leader of Reservists on Duty, a former refugee of Lebanese-Christian descent, and a member of the LGBTQ community, said any bigotry he has faced came from individuals, not the government.
The presentation began with a documentary short asking whether the Israel Apartheid Week demonstrations held on college campuses are legitimate protests or merely efforts to spread lies about Israel.
The film showed Reservists on Duty members in Israeli flags posing questions and probing for the details behind anti-Israel sloganeering at the University of California, Irvine, during Anti-Zionism Week, only to receive a venomous response. Confusion ensued when the pro-Palestinian demonstrators learned that the reservists were not Jews.
Mohammed Kabiya, one of the speakers at the ACCESS event, addressed one of the Irvine protesters in a hijab in Arabic, resulting in this exchange:
“You’re a Jewish Muslim?”
“No, I’m no Jewish Muslim. I’m an Arab Israeli Muslim.”
Elkhoury told the ACCESS crowd, “We are sure of our message.”
He said those who resort to vitriol, such as the Irvine protesters, are not as secure in their beliefs and thus resort to anger and insults.
“We know our facts. We know what is going on on the ground,” Elkhoury said. “And we came there to have this dialogue. And they just weren’t able to listen or able to have this dialogue and conversation.”
The video set the tone for the presentation. The reservists came to express their fervent support for their home, not to delve into the nuances of Israeli society.
A few questions about Israel’s problems led to a plea from Elkhoury that the reservists would not like to get political.
The crowd’s reaction was generally positive.
“I was very surprised at what I heard. I didn’t realize that all the non-Jewish groups were in the IDF,” said Jerry, a septuagenarian who attended with his wife.
He marveled at how these young people are engaged in “Israel as a country, not as a religion.”