Opinion: Commentary: Taking Exception: Fighting Both anti-Semitism and Oppression

On the May 13 Eid holiday, Abrar Omeish, at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board, Tweeted: "Hurts my heart to celebrate while Israel kills Palestinians & desecrates the Holy Land right now,” she wrote. “Apartheid & colonization were wrong yesterday and will be today, here and there. May justice + truth prevail."

There has been a disturbing community backlash in response. A spokesperson for the Fairfax GOP smeared her as “deeply anti-Semitic.” And on May 19 the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington rescinded its plans to honor Ms. Omeish due to the content of her Tweet. JCRC’s announcement shames and punishes Ms. Omeish for her views, saying that she “disenfranchised the thousands of Jewish families in her district.”

As the Jewish parent of a child in FCPS, JCRC does not speak for me. By conflating the state of Israel with all Jewish people everywhere, groups like JCRC and the Fairfax GOP are engaging in a well-worn tactic: to paint any critique of Israeli state violence as an expression of anti-Semitism. Such allegations are designed to “cancel” anyone who speaks out for Palestinian human rights, and to deflect from the actual substance of their criticism.

For example, Ms. Omeish’s use of the word “apartheid” in her Tweet is completely aligned with the assessment of the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, which wrote in a recent report: “The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.” Human Rights Watch also agrees that Israel’s policies amount to apartheid. And Israel is currently under a U.N. inquiry for possible war crimes following its latest offensive on Gaza, which left 67 Palestinian children dead.

Ms. Omeish’s detractors allege that by criticizing Israel, she cannot represent all students. I strongly reject this destructive reasoning, as well as simplistic “you’re either with us or against us” arguments. As she herself reiterated in her speech at the May 20 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, it is possible to “fight both anti-Semitism and oppression against the Palestinians … at the same time.”

I am deeply concerned by the insinuation of some community members and groups that School Board members should remain silent on matters of social injustice. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led the resistance to apartheid in South Africa: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

My family couldn’t be prouder to have Ms. Omeish representing us on the School Board. She has continued to express a good-faith commitment to work with all faith leaders to improve the well-being of all students in Fairfax Country. I can’t say the same for those trying to discredit her and suppress healthy discussion.

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