(Update, May 24: WJW interviewed Abrar Omeish on May 21 and the article has been updated.)
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington yesterday canceled plans to honor Fairfax County School Board member Abrar Omeish, after she accused Israel of “desecrating the Holy Land” in social media posts.
Omeish, first elected in 2019, was to be honored at the JCRC’s annual meeting tonight.
On May 13, two identical posts appeared on Omeish’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, which she uses for personal and school board business, celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The posts included: “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.”
The JCRC in a statement called 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.”
Omeish was one of five Fairfax school board members the JCRC planned to honor for their advocacy for adding four religious minority holidays off to the district’s 2021-2022 calendar, which ultimately did not pass. In the statement, the JCRC wrote that its representatives spoke with Omeish and that she “seems uninterested in being a voice for authentic empathy, grace, and healing.”
The statement continued: “We cannot in good conscience offer this celebratory award that would have recognized and elevated months of work and partnership because she has spent the last week tearing those efforts down.”
Many people offered criticism in the comment section of Omeish’s Facebook post. Michelle Barnaby wrote: “Hurts my heart to have you spew political controversial issues on your school board page! I’m sure those Jewish FCPS students and families feel really welcome now.”
Others expressed support. Fawaz Ahmad wrote: “Proud of you for standing strong with the truth even in the face of such blistering ignorance. It’s incredible how many people equate any kind of criticism of Israel’s highly problematic activity as anti-semitism and hate, when the world has known and recognized from some time now how Israel’s actions are exactly what you called them: colonization and apartheid.”
Omeish posted a follow-up statement to Facebook on May 14. In it, she wrote: “War is terrible for everyone. I hear those hurting. I continue to be here for each of you. People of all faiths deserve Holy Land peace. All forms of hate are unacceptable. Ensuring justice & honoring the humanity of everyone remains as urgent as ever. I look ahead to robust & empathetic engagement with Jewish leaders and all allies. Let’s build together.”
In an interview with WJW on May 21, Omeish disputed the criticism that her social media posts were anti-Semitic. They were not anti-Semitic because she was criticizing the Israeli government and not all Israelis or Jews.
“To critique Israel and the actions of a state is not to be anti-Semitic, and that’s a very clear and extremely important distinction to me,” she said.
In response to the contention that it is not appropriate for a school board member to make a political statement online, Omeish said it is her responsibility as an elected official to take a stand against perceived injustices in the world and raise awareness about the suffering of others. She compared her posts to others she made in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“For some, Black Lives Matter is political. For others, it’s deeply personal, right? It’s their lives. And I think that that’s similar here,” she said “I posted about what others may call controversial issues before to uplift the voices of those who otherwise would not have their narrative told.”