Last month, a Fairfax County School Board member tweeted criticism of the policies of a foreign government, echoing language which has been used by Human Rights Watch, two of the foreign country’s most prominent human rights organizations, and at least ten former officials of that foreign government.
Unfortunately, however, the School Board member has since become the target of a slew of baseless accusations and calls for her resignation or removal. It is hard to overlook the fact that there has been such a backlash for oft-stated human rights-based comments--particularly because the School Board member at issue, Abrar Omeish, is Arab American, and the foreign entity in question is the Israeli government.
Targeting Arab Americans with accusations of bigotry or deadly antisemitism simply because of political criticisms of the Israeli government is a form of Arab baiting—a decades-old tactic used to exclude Arab American voices from civic spaces and to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights.
Much of the criticism of Ms. Omeish’s comments focus on the words she chose, such as “colonization” and “apartheid”, to describe the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. But both the first and second Bush administrations and the Reagan administration used the term “occupation,” which differs from colonization in only the length of time of the activity. The word “apartheid” as been used for decades to describe Israeli policies by politicians from Desond Tutu to Yitzhak Rabin, from Jimmy Carter to Ehud Olmert. Note that Ms. Omeish’s critics most often use loaded buzzwords without actually addressing the accuracy of her statement.
Indeed, the bad faith outrage toward Ms. Omeish is not because what she said is factually incorrect, but because of who she is. The day before Ms. Omeish’s tweet, U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly also rightly criticized Israeli policies, using the word “occupation” in a letter condemning the same illegal land grab in Sheikh Jarrah that Ms. Omeish decried. Since then, the Fairfax GOP has tweeted about Omeish three dozen times. They have not yet mentioned Representative Connolly at all.
Perhaps the worst result of these attacks on Abrar Omeish is not her victimization, but what it represents and the shifted focus away from the grueling reality of Palestinians, and Palestinian children in particular. Since 2006, the Israeli government displaced an average of 370 Palestinian children each year as a result of on going home demolitions. The Israeli military also detains between 500 and 700 Palestian children each year. And during last month’s violence, Israeli attacks killed 200 Palestinians, including 59 children. As a Fairfax County parent, I applaud any school board member who will join the chorus against such injustice wherever it is found. Palestinian children are just as deserving of a future as our children, and any policy based on justice must not ignore their plight.
Ryan J. Suto
Arab American Institute