Being in a situation where you are the minority can be challenging. It is something unique that can be shared with others to allow them to better understand a situation they might never be in. Jonathan Nizar Elkhoury has been a minority his whole life, no matter where he’s been in the world.
Born in Lebanon – a Sunni Muslim majority country – Elkhoury was already a minority being a Lebanese Christian. In 2001, when Elkhoury was six years old, his family left Lebanon for Israel because his father was a South Lebanon Army officer. When Israel left Southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah began its ascendance and this put him and his family at risk. After the proper paperwork was gathered, Jonathan and his family carefully made the trip to Israel where they were peacefully integrated into Israeli society. Elkhoury continues to live his life as a Lebanese Christian in Israel and is a proud Zionist.
Today, Elkhoury is a spokesman for the Christian Empowerment Council (CEC) in Israel. On November 7th, Elkhoury was hosted by Elon University’s (NC) CAMERA-supported group IDEA: Israel Dialogue, Education, and Advocacy club, to talk to students about his life in Lebanon and Israel. They considered his visit to be one of the most successful events that they have ever had. They partnered with Spectrum, Elon’s LGBTQ+ club, and they sent about 20 attendees, bringing the total to 56.
The event lasted an hour longer than scheduled because so many students stayed behind to speak with Jonathan, who was more than willing to answer their questions. The audience was extremely engaged, and the LGBTQ+ students appreciated the event immensely. Many asked about Jonathan’s experiences in the gay community and his experiences as an Israeli citizen.
A couple of days later on November 9th, CAMERA-supported group Israel Student Association at Queens College in Flushing, New York hosted Elkhoury. In his audience, some knew a great deal about Israel while others knew nothing at all. This reflects a situation in which information about Israel is not equally distributed; Israel is often in the news, yet there are still people who know little about the country. Elkhoury helped his audience better understand what life is really like in Israel and how the region’s political and social climate can be felt on a daily basis.
On November 15th, Tulane welcomed Jonathan Elkhoury courtesy of CAMERA-supported group Tulane University for Israel (TUFI). He shared his unique personal story of being a gay Christian Lebanese refugee. His inspirational story demonstrated how Israel is a safe haven for refugees and minorities despite ethnic or religious background.
He shared with the students how smoothly his transition was into school and social atmospheres. In relation to how racism affects minorities in other societies, Elkhoury demonstrated to the Tulane audience how Israel defies those standards and accepts all of its citizens. This lesson was precisely the vision that TUFI aimed to portray about Israeli society.
Furthermore, Elkhoury explained at great lengths how welcoming and supportive Israeli society is, specifically towards the LGBTQ community that Elkhoury proudly is a part of. One specific topic that students inquired about was how Elkhoury viewed the critiques of Israel accusing the Jewish state of pinkwashing, a process in which a country or group promotes its LGBTQ-friendlieness in an effort to downplay negative aspects of itself.
Elkhoury then traveled up to Atlanta, Georgia where he was hosted by Emory University’s CAMERA-supported Emory Students for Israel Club on November 17th. He shared his story again about what it was like to escape Lebanon and how he and his family started their new lives in Israel. His mother and grandfather had to finesse the government system in order to escape given the various barriers of their situation. His mother, as a woman, had no legal clearance to take her children out of the country. Also, the family faced challenges because they were affiliated with the South Lebanon Army. Elkhoury faced personal challenges when coming out as gay to his family and community.
On November 28th, Elkhoury went to San Diego State University where he was invited by San Diego State Hillel on group to talk to students. Their intended goal was to bridge the Israeli community on campus with the LGBTQ community. In preparing for the event, members reached out to the Pride center on campus, as well as the multifaith community. The head of the Pride center on campus expressed his enthusiasm for the event and promised to come.
However, when Jonathan Elkhoury came to campus to speak, there was a surprising audience that was engaged in Jonathan’s story: the Christian community. SDSU is in the process of establishing a Christians United for Israel chapter, and this year in particular, thanks to a Christian student leader who went to Israel, they’ve seen a rise in interest in Israel from Christians on campus. The event proved to be a surprising bonding experience with Christians on campus. A group of students from CUFI attended, and many confessed that it was their first Israel related event. They asked questions about his identities, and about Israel. Everyone was particularly taken away by Jonathan’s food show depicting shakshuka in the marketplace in Jerusalem.
Contributed by CAMERA intern Jake Greenblatt