A Jew defends Samirah against charges of anti-Semitism

Ed. Note: Virginia House candidate Ibraheem Samirah recently apologized after a website published 5-year old Facebook posts by him criticizing Israel. Samirah, whose family is from Palestine, is the Democratic party candidate for the 86th District, including parts of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, in a special election on Tue. Feb. 19.

By Lainie Singerman.

We need to be able to talk about Israel without being immediately shut down with the label of “Anti-Semitism.”  It is a false and offensive use of the label because Israel does not represent all Jews and criticizing Israel is not the same as believing it should not exist.  Many Jews, including myself, are vocally critical of certain Israeli military and government actions.  Many critics of Israel also believe that Israel has the right to exist– Dr. Ibraheem Samirah (a Muslim) and I (a Jew) are two.

We should be free to criticize all countries that violate human rights without being disqualified from elected office.  In addition to criticizing Israel, Dr. Samirah’s Facebook posts also included full-throated criticism of the Egyptian government’s violent suppression of protests. It cannot be argued in good faith that he singled out Israel.  As an undergraduate, the first year that his college’s Jewish fraternity accepted non-Jews, he joined.  This also supports the conclusion that his Facebook posts about Israel were not anti-Semitic.

Yet our Democratic community immediately condemned Dr. Samirah as “anti-Semitic” for old posts supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and for saying that hawkish Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon will “burn in hell.”  It is not anti-Jewish to express anger against Sharon – indeed, I sympathize with the underlying feeling that Sharon’s political career made peace in the region less likely.  The reaction to Dr. Samirah’s Facebook posts seems to communicate that it is unacceptable to speak out against Israeli policies harmful to the prospect of peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.

Democratic lawmakers routinely support laws that forbid public employees participating in the BDS movement.  These boycotts attempt to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law as regards the human rights of Palestinians. Yet we celebrated anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa.  In Israel, millions of human beings are confined to an open-air refugee camp called the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government controls and limits Gaza’s supply of electricity, food, and medicine.  I too think that a boycott, in Israel as in South Africa, is a reasonable way to try to pressure a democracy to change its policy.

Criticizing Israel – and even supporting BDS – is compatible with support of Israel’s right to exist.  Dr. Samirah and I share the belief that a two-state solution is the best hope for peace between Israel and Palestine, though it is for the people who live there to decide.  Our candidates for public office should be able to openly discuss Israeli policies.

It is reasonable that a person in Dr. Samirah’s shoes, whose parents are Palestinian refugees, would be angered by some of Israel’s actions.  We should acknowledge that inter-generational pain and honor it even if it makes us uncomfortable.

I am grateful that I am permitted to publicly honor the tragic experience of my family, Polish Jews driven out of their homes by pogroms.  Now, I ask that we honor the trauma and suffering of Dr. Samirah, his parents, and his grandparents by allowing open discussion of Israel’s actions, rather than lumping all Jews together with Israel and indiscriminately shutting down speech critical of Israel as anti-Semitic.


Lainie Singerman is a trial attorney and Vice Chair of Fairfax County Democratic Committee for the central region . She is writing as an individual.