Tweet about Israel becomes focus at Fairfax Co. school board meeting

A controversial statement about Israel posted on Twitter by a member of the Fairfax County School Board became the main focus at the start of the board’s meeting in the Virginia county Thursday.

One week prior to the meeting, board member Abrar Omeish commented on the recent violence between Israel and Hamas, claiming that Israel was killing Palestinians and desecrating the Holy Land.

Omeish later added that “war is terrible for everyone… I look ahead to robust and empathetic engagement with Jewish leaders.”

But her initial statement led to passionate criticism, with some calling on Omeish to step down.

“Abrar Omeish must resign or be censured as a member of the Fairfax County School Board based on her social media posting,” said resident Jennifer Katz during a public comment period at Thursday’s meeting.

Watch the school board meeting below:

Katz said the tweet “could be reasonably interpreted as a microaggression” against Jewish students.

“This posting violates established rules of conduct applicable to school board members,” Katz said.

A different speaker said she supported Omeish.

“I stand in solidarity with board member Abrar Omeish,” said Kheira Bekkadja, a senior at Edison High School. “She is progressive, courageous and a champion for us all. Her factual statement did not alienate any religious group.”

At the end of the meeting, Omeish spoke and addressed the controversy surrounding her comments.

“I understand on a deeply human level the pain and the anguish people are feeling abroad, and the helplessness that people feel here today, who have family in the region, who have ties or just have a personal connection,” she said.

She added, “I have been grateful to hear from many constituents and neighbors who have reached out. The loudest thing I want to be heard today is that I want to listen. I want us to have dialogue and conversation and to be able to empathize with one another.”

Outside the school board meeting, a number of community members gathered, some protested Omeish’s social media post and some were there to support her.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington was set to honor Omeish this week for her work in making the “academic year calendar more equitable for people of faith minorities.”

In response to the tweet, the group rescinded its honor.

“It is irresponsible of her to use her public platform to publicly advance controversial political views that target and marginalize Jewish students and their families and divide our community,” the group said in a statement. “She seems uninterested in being a voice for authentic empathy, grace and healing.”

Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire Thursday, halting a bruising 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip.

At least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 39 women, with 1,910 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, were killed.

The fighting erupted on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound, built on a site holy to Muslims and Jews, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

The competing claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have repeatedly triggered bouts of violence in the past.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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