Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

A night with minorities in the IDF

Tonight, I attended a presentation sponsored by AJC Access Atlanta, the young professionals program of the regional branch of AJC, Global Jewish Advocacy. Reservists on Duty, founded in 2015, “is an Israeli non-governmental and non-profit organization [and its] goal is to bring the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the public’s attention, both in Israel and abroad.” The way they did it tonight was by having AJC Access Atlanta bring the Reservists on Duty’s “Israeli Minorities Tour 2018” to Atlanta.

Tonight’s event, Diverse Voices from Israel, brought an interesting mix of minorities serving in the Israeli Defense Forces together to speak. With an introduction by Christopher Perlera, an American Jewish Committee Project Interchange alumni, the panel of speakers was hosted by Jonathan Elkhoury, a Lebanese Christian, and each guest spoke about his or her experience as a citizen of Israel and serving in the IDF or in National Service.

Jonathan’s family came to Israel when he was 9, after Israel pulled out of South Lebanon. His father had served with the former SLA. The other speakers were native-born. Nizar Graisi, also Christian, served in the tanks division and now helps integrate Christians into Israeli society and the IDF. Mohammad Kabiya, a Muslim Israeli-Bedouin and a former IDF soldier, now works as a strategic consultant for the IDF, specializing in Bedouin and foreign affairs. There were also two women. Lorena Khateeb, an Israeli Druze woman who was in National Service in the Druze youth movement. And Nasrin Khalifa, an Israeli Arab Muslim who did hers in the Unit for Directing Discharged Soldiers. Her father was a colonel in the IDF.

For Jonathan and Mohammed, this was their second minority voices tour speaking about what it is like to serve in the IDF and serve Israel. Jonathan conveyed some about the history and purpose of this initiative.

My fiancé and I attended this with Muslim acquaintances and I tried to see it through their eyes. Given the purpose of the tour, a certain amount of cynicism makes sense.

I understand the need for loyal citizens to want to speak out so others can see through ugly rhetoric that take up so much space in the public narrative. But I can also understand hesitancy to take it all at face value. An inaccurate number was cited; does that mean one must doubt other facts and figures?

No, but it means that the more we listen, the more we hear. And that with research we can substantiate or correct the information we are unsure about. And while it is extremely important to be able to distinguish among sources to determine credibility, it also is not a reason not to listen. Each person’s story is his own. Each person’s experience is what happened to him. Just as feelings cannot be classified as right are wrong, neither can one’s experiences.

The more stories we hear, the fuller the picture that we can paint and understand. I always have a hard time with generalizations. But I also know that singular anecdotes are not representative of all people’s experiences. And that’s why it is important to recognize that each person’s anecdotal contribution to the conversation offers another view and should be heard.

Tonight’s were interesting to hear.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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