At the end of last year, the pro-Israel group Reservists on Duty spent two weeks on a speaking tour called “Arabs Breaking the Silence.” The speakers come from diverse backgrounds, including a Christian, a Muslim, a Bedouin, a Druze, and a Palestinian living in the West Bank. The tour stopped at colleges in California, Arizona, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania to talk about the experiences of living in Israel and serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. The name of this tour is similar to a different Israeli organization, Breaking the Silence, and that’s not an accident.
Breaking the Silence was founded in 2004, offering a platform for anonymous testimonies from soldiers about their experiences in the IDF and in occupied territories. The purpose of these testimonies was to spread information to countries outside of Israel, particularly the United States, about what goes on “behind the scenes” of the IDF. However, most of the testimonies are painted with an obvious bias against Israel. The testimonies provided by the admittedly far-left Breaking the Silence talk about abuses like looting and destruction of property that take place in occupied territories. However, because the testimonies are anonymous, the Israeli military argues, they’re unable to investigate these reported incidents. Many pro-Israel activists thus feel that Breaking the Silence cares less about stopping these abuses and more about spreading anti-Semitic information that paints Israel as the villain.
Reservists on Duty was created in 2015 as a response to Breaking the Silence. RoD is also made up of those who have served in the IDF, but had different experiences to those in Breaking the Silence. RoD works to expose the spread of misinformation against Israel and to educate students about terror attacks to which Israelis are subjected to. They speak at American universities and train American Jewish students to speak out in favor of Israel, bolstering Jewish and pro-Israel pride in America’s youth.
“This speaking tour is very important because it highlights the real experiences of Israeli Arabs of minority populations in Israel… without censorship or derision from people who base their opinions on propaganda that comes from people who have never lived in Israel,” explained Jonathan Elkoury, minority coordinator for RoD. These speakers come from different races and different religions to combat the idea of Israel’s intolerance. It is especially important to tell these stories to Americans, who form opinions about the situation in Israel often without ever having experienced it themselves. Speakers included: Mohammad Kabiya, a Muslim Israel Bedouin and former IDF soldier; Jonathan Elkoury, a Lebanese Israeli Christian; Dema Taya, Arab Israeli Muslim; and Ram Asad, a Druze Israeli former combat soldier.
The tour caught the attention and sponsorship of several notable pro-Israel sponsors. Students Supporting Israel has worked in conjunction with RoD since the beginning and now presents many of the speaking engagements for Arabs Breaking the Silence. The Israel Learning Lab and Zionist Organization of America have also signed on as proud sponsors of the event.
One of the most renowned sponsors of the tour is Adam Milstein, philanthropist and Israeli-American pro-Israel activist. He is the national chairman and co-founder of the Israeli-American Council and sits on the board of many pro-Israel organizations like StandWithUs and Israel on Campus Coalition. Fostering support and pride for Israel in Jewish American and Israeli-American students is one of his core goals, so it only makes sense that he’s such an avid supporter of Arabs Breaking the Silence.
“If BtS just reported their allegations to the IDF’s Military Advocate General and/or Israeli justice authorities, we would have no problem with it,” Milstein, a former IDF soldier himself, told the Jewish News Service. “But we believe that for Israelis to defame the state of Israel and the IDF outside of Israel’s borders and in front of the naïve American public is wrong.” Based in Los Angeles himself, Adam Milstein will be a prominent sponsor for that leg of the tour before it moves eastward.
Milstein is the president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, which he began with his wife Gila, also a former IDF soldier. A native of Israel, he moved to the United States in 1981 and began a career as a commercial real estate agent in Southern California. He struck success and today supports a vast array of pro-Israel organizations, especially those that focus on bolstering support for Israel in the United States. In addition to their own foundation, his wife is the president of Stand By Me, an organization which supports Israeli-American cancer patients in Los Angeles, and the MERONA Campus Leadership Foundation.
With Americans often unclear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be easy to form opinions based on the first bit of information that reaches us. Those opinions go on to dictate who we support. In a situation that is so dangerous and dire for so many living in Israel and the West Bank, it’s important to make sure we have a full, informed picture of the situation. Reservists on Duty, along with other pro-Israel organizations, feel that for too long the Israeli narrative in America has been too heavily dominated by one side. Now it’s time for the other side to break their own silence and share their stories.
Benjamin Diaz started working for Debate Report in 2017. Ben grew up in a small town in northern Ontario. He studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married his wife a year later. Benhas been a proud Torontonian for the past 10 years. He covers politics and the economy. Previously he wrote for CTV News and the Huffington Post Canada.