Principle and courage under fire


The Holy Land is more than a nickname. It suggests that there is something intrinsically sacred in the land of Israel. And to defile the land is a breach — reminiscent of God’s admonition to Cain after the murder of Abel. “Now you are cursed by this very soil, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hands.”

There were haunting echoes of this lurid exchange in recent social media posts by Abrar Omeish, an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board, outside Washington, D.C. On May 13, at the height of fighting between Israel and Hamas during Operation Guardian of the Walls, Omeish followed a greeting to fellow Muslims on completing the Ramadan fast with a condemnation of Israel for its air strikes on Gaza in response to Hamas’ rocket attacks.

“Hurts my heart to celebrate while Israel kills Palestinians & desecrates the Holy Land right now. Apartheid & colonization were wrong yesterday and will be today, here and there.” According to Omeish, Israel’s response to Hamas’ attacks were a blood crime, which “desecrates the Holy Land.” But not a word about the death, destruction and terror caused to Israelis and Gazans alike by the indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas.

Omeish is one of five school board members — lauded as the Fairfax 5 — who were to be honored last week by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington for advocating the addition of four religious holidays to the upcoming school calendar. The proposal, which reflected recognition of the region’s increasing diversity, did not pass, but it helped bring together a coalition committed to being a voice for minority religions and cultures, which was cultivated with the assistance of JCRC.

That coalition’s delicate balance was threatened by Omeish’s posts. JCRC made her aware of its concerns. She responded the next day with a more neutral message: “People of all faiths deserve Holy Land peace. All forms of hate are unacceptable,” and concluded that “I look ahead to robust & empathetic engagement with Jewish leaders and all allies.” While the rage and vitriol were gone, the note lacked authenticity, contained no retraction and did nothing to alleviate the offensiveness of her initial remarks.

After careful consideration, JCRC decided to rescind its planned honor of Omeish. JCRC was clear and direct in its explanation, calling Omeish’s post “a one-sided, inaccurate, and hateful statement that smeared Israel, defamed Israelis, and disenfranchised the thousands of Jewish families in her district. The language Ms. Omeish used in this Tweet is deeply offensive and inflammatory to all who support Israel.” And JCRC observed: “Her actions run completely contrary to our mission of building interfaith respect, cooperation, allyship and friendship.”

We applaud the JCRC’s decision, and the clear-eyed focus with which it was made. When efforts at rapprochement with Omeish failed, JCRC chose principle over expediency, showing communal leadership and purpose.

Until shortly before the gala, Omeish was an ally. With hard work, she might be one again.

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