On November 2, 2016, Jonathan Elkhoury, a Gay, Christian, Lebanese man with a powerful story, came to Clark University. Jonathan’s visit was sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and it was co-sponsored by Clark University Hillel’s Israel and Zionism Committee and Clark University’s campus pro-Israel group, Clarkies for Israel (CFI). Thanks to excellent advertising by CAMERA staff and CFI members, Jonathan’s speech was one of the most-well attended and audience-diverse CFI events in the history of the group.
Jonathan grew up in Lebanon, where he lived until his family and village were threatened by the Shia Islamic group Hezbollah, because his village leaders had sided with Israel during Lebanon’s civil war. As a result of his family and way of life being threatened, Jonathan and his family moved to the State of Israel, where they enjoy full rights and freedoms. As a gay man living in Arab communities for a large part of his life, Jonathan told of how his identity had constantly been under attack, whereas once he moved to Israel this was no longer the case. Today, he stands as living proof of Israel’s commitment to the rights of LGBT people across the region (as well as serving on the Christian Empowerment Council, a testament to Israel`s commitment to the rights of non-Jewish religious minorities)
Across the Middle East, Israel stands alone as a force for the rights and freedoms granted and given to the LGBT community. Tel Aviv’s gay pride parade is one of the largest (and one of the only) such events in the region. Whereas within other locales in the Middle East, LGBT persons are murdered, denied their rights, and humiliated in acts of public shaming and execution, in Israel, they are citizens in full, both in life and under the rule of law. Those who allege that Israeli granting of rights to such communities is “pinkwashing” are normally BDS activists who wish to delegitimize the state of Israel by any means possible, and their claims are mere fantasy.
If a truly effective conversation about Gay rights in the Middle East is to be had, then the extreme and violent homophobia of the Arab countries and Iran relative to the egalitarian state of affairs within the State of Israel must be acknowledged. Where are the cries and outrage when LGBT people in Iran are hung from construction cranes, or hurled blindfolded from rooftops by Daesh? The only way to improve the plight of this minority in the Middle East is to adopt the Israeli model: full rights in society and enshrined under the law. Such measures would in turn lead to more positive societies in general and more people like Jonathan Elkhoury: LGBT persons confident and comfortable to be who they are.