When Committed to Unity, An Apology Should Come Naturally

Mistakes and biases are part of being human, how we handle them is of the utmost importance. Lessons from elected leader’s misguided social media post.

Judith Cabelli
5 min readMay 30, 2021
Four women sitting in front of a body of water at sunset, holding their hands together to create the shape of two hearts.
Photo by Noorulabdeen Ahmad on Unsplash

Like many, I understand the power of social media. I know it can bring people together in a heartbeat. Just as quickly, I’ve seen it create deep divides. Recently, what should have been a community celebration, rapidly devolved into a divisive, hate-infused social media frenzy in Fairfax, Virginia. My tears have been abundant since Ms. Abrar Omeish, one of our Fairfax County School Board Members, posted a misguided, biased message on Twitter and Facebook during the final day of Ramadan. This elected official used her public platform to accuse Israel of “desecrat[ing] the holy land” by “kill[ing]” Palestinians.” She further accused Israel of apartheid and colonization alongside her holiday greetings. This virulent, one sided language was unnecessary. It hurt my heart to see it written within her public facing holiday wishes and her language choice quickly fostered division. Instead of eliciting holiday cheer, chasms developed as vitriol spread like wildfires.

For the sake of my community and the good of humanity, I wish the story ended with an immediate apology and swift removal of her original posts, which would have curbed the hateful commentary. This did not happen. Nonetheless, Ms. Omeish is human, and I believe in my heart that the opportunity for community repair remains.

My emotions are raw, yet I appreciate the strong email Ms. Omeish sent her listserve thirteen long days later. Without question, I feel it is essential for her to continue her commitment to equity work. I believe my County’s One Fairfax Policy, which requires intentionally considering racial and social equity, is paramount for the betterment of our schools and our greater community. I value the sentiment expressed in her recent email, particularly her gratitude for her personal conversations with local Rabbis and her commitment to continue interfaith work. Ms. Omeish articulated her intention “to uplift silenced voices and center the humanity of marginalized populations.” While this is a powerful statement, extreme harm to the Jewish community, a marginalized population, remains the result of her posts.

Ms. Omeish, as a School Board Member, has the potential to be a profound leader. She proved herself to be a faith equity partner and ally during our school system’s 2021–2022 calendar debacle. The reality is that our community and our leaders are learning together how to break down inequities and rebuild equitable systems.

As we embark on this challenging yet essential work, inherently, we all will make mistakes as we simultaneously make progress. Elected leaders and community members will be equally responsible for missteps. Individually acknowledging those mistakes as we transgress will be essential; this will be leadership in action.

Unfortunately, I recognize that most effectively moving forward in my community necessitates action and personal work only Ms. Omeish can do. I feel it is critical for Ms. Omeish to recognize her personal bias, which we all have, and accept responsibility for her missteps that led to harmful missives and divisive hate speech. Even if that was not her intention, which I believe in my heart to be the case, she still had personal responsibility for the aftermath of her actions.

Ms. Omeish’s email was a first step, but the hate speech remains publicly visible on her Facebook and Twitter feeds. As I often tell my children, an apology is essential regardless of whether harm was intentional. Furthermore, as my children know, apologies involve acknowledging the specific harm and what will be done differently going forward.

On one hand, I believe to move forward Ms. Omeish must make it clear that, as a School Board Member who is expected to embody our One Fairfax Policy, she will not stand for the type of acrimonious interactions by community members that happened in response to her posts. I also believe at the same time she should be clear that her role in creating the initial posts was misguided and through subsequent reflection she realized her mistake leaving the posts on her pages.

However, I recognize that I do not have control over this leader’s actions. Obtaining closure that will propel my community forward is not a given. I realize the aftermath and the expectations my community has for this leader that remain unmet have caused so much pain on both individual and community-wide levels. What I am just starting to realize is that this might need to be a yes and situation.

While my community cannot do the personal work for our leader, importantly, we can play a pivotal role in our approach so that we inspire her to take action. The past two weeks have been filled with pain. I watched anguish and anger take a visceral form on social media throughout my community.

What has become abundantly clear to me is that we, as the community, need to recognize the existence of bias, and, in the face of bias, we need to offer a little grace. At the same time, it is reasonable to expect accountability and an apology from leaders and community members when a personal bias is recognized and impedes progress. In this case, that means an apology from Ms. Omeish.

This particular situation is complicated. Yes, I believe publicly acknowledging personal responsibility would allow my community to begin to effectively move forward. Yes, my community craves this personal accountability and an unequivocal apology for individual and community healing. Yes, this personal accountability is critical for my community to begin to heal. And my community can play an encouraging role in the process that will bring about that apology and the healing process.

To be humble and to accept responsibility is never easy. I believe in my heart that Ms. Omeish wants to catalyze racial, social and faith equity. Therefore she must know in her heart that it is incumbent on her to find the proper words of atonement and to take the initiative to stop the anger and pain from further dividing our community. Then, my community can get back to building interfaith bridges through the values of respect, empathy, shared responsibility and allyship.

Leading with the values of humility, equity and respect will enable my community to move forward successfully together. Remembering that our words matter will help us as we progress toward unity.

Judith Cabelli is a passionate leader committed to advancing housing affordability, social justice and racial equity. She is motivated by fairness and equity for all and the belief that access to food, housing and health care are human rights. She is a voracious reader and an aspiring writer. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia with her husband, daughter, son and their crazy dog Lila.



Judith Cabelli

A passionate leader committed to housing affordability, social justice and racial equity.