As a gay, Christian man who lives in Israel, Jonathan Elkhoury describes himself as a minority within a minority. But according to him, his unique perspective enables him to see the world in a new way.
On Monday evening Elkhoury shared his story with students at Binghamton University, as part of a speaking tour he is doing at colleges across the Northeastern U.S. The event, titled “Escaping Lebanon: How an Arab Christian Found Refuge in Israel,” was sponsored by the groups Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) and Bearcats for Israel. Outside organization CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) also helped to execute and sponsor the event for students.
Arianne Storch, the president of BUZO and a senior majoring in psychology, helped put on the event and said that Elkhoury’s uncommon perspective and life story was the reason students wanted to hear him speak at BU.
“I think it’s relevant to have him right now because Christians around the Middle East are being persecuted,” Storch said. “Israel is a lot of times criticized and looked down upon but people don’t realize that people flee to Israel to find refuge.”
Although originally from Lebanon, Elkhoury fled with his family as a child to neighboring country Israel for safety. He said that he speaks at schools hoping to open students’ minds and give them a better understanding of life as a minority in Israel.
“What I’m hoping to accomplish is for people to better understand what is happening to minorities in Israel,” Elkhoury said. “Most of [the minorities] want to be part of the society but they are afraid to do that.”
He talked about what it’s like to be a Christian in Israel and worked to dispel negative views about it. He also discussed what he said was the often-inaccurate portrayal of violence in Israel that is seen in the media. He then said that his life experience allowed him to offer a different view of Israel that many are never exposed to.
“People are fed by a biased media, and they’ve never heard from a minority who has succeeded in integrating into Israeli society, they’ve never met a person like that before,” Elkhoury said. “I encourage people to go and visit Israel to go and see it in their own eyes.”
He also spoke about the progress that he has seen in Israel for all minority groups, especially over the past few years.
“I can see that now, compared with 2008 or 2011, everyone is really trying to make progress, and to integrate into the Israeli society,” he said. “They are progressing towards a better future of working together.”
Arly Mintz, an undeclared sophomore, said that despite her visits to Israel, she had never been exposed to this kind of viewpoint before.
“I thought it was really interesting to hear a new perspective,” Mintz said. “I’ve been to Israel many times but to hear from a Lebanese Christian is very new for me.”
Other students like Josh Fisher, a senior double-majoring in psychology and Arabic, said that he had gained a lot of new information about Christians in Israel.
“I took away that living as a minority in Israel is a lot easier than living as a minority in other countries in the Middle East,” he said. “There is a place where you can go and feel safe.”
Elkhoury summarized his talk with a message of promise and hope for minorities’ lives in Israel, not just in the future, but now.
“We are looking at a better future,” Elkhoury said. “We are looking at a better present.”