Published June 08, 2009
A Muslim leader invited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to participate in a conference call after President Obama's speech in Cairo last week once told a crowd that "the jihad way is the way to liberate your land."
Esam Omeish, a surgeon and community leader who is running for Virginia state assemblyman, made the statements in 2000 at pro-Palestinian rally where he spoke out against Israel and urged Muslims to support the Palestinian liberation movement.
"We the Muslims of the Washington Metropolitan area are here today in sub-freezing temperatures to tell our brothers and sisters in (Palestine) that you have learned the way, that you have known that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land," Omeish said, just three months into the Al-Aqsa uprising that would claim over a thousand lives through Palestinian terrorist attacks.
"We are with you, we are supporting you and we will do everything that we can, insha'Allah (God willing), to help your cause."
After footage of the speech was released in 2007, Omeish was forced to resign from a Virginia state immigration commission to which he had been appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine.
Omeish is now running for state assemblyman in a closely-fought primary election to be held Tuesday. On his Web site, he touts the support of influential Muslim politicians and civic leaders, and his presence on the Clinton call, as first reported by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
The State Department has not replied to questions as to whether it was aware of Omeish's past comments when he was selected as one of approximately 100-200 invitees to participate in the conference, which included academics and Muslim leaders.
Jim Hyland, the Republican candidate for the seat Omeish is running for, said Omeish was a poor choice to represent his region's growing Muslim community.
"What criteria were they using to select people?" he said. "I think (his views) come from a small-minded perspective -- got to fight Israel and all that sort of rhetoric. Some people have tried move beyond that."
Omeish, who is preparing for the Democratic primary, was not available for comment, but shortly after video of his speech appeared online two years ago he told the Washington Post he had been the victim of a "smear campaign."
"It was not a call for violence. It was never any condoning of terrorism or any violent acts," he said.
The word "jihad" has multiple meanings, and can be defined as a holy struggle by a Muslim for a spiritual or political goal.
John Carroll, an attorney running against Omeish in the primary, said his opponent's comments were known by many voters in his district, but neither he nor the two other Democratic candidates had used them against Omeish.
"I was surprised (when I watched the video). He's about as nice a guy as you can meet," said Carroll. "He's really championed health care for the uninsured."
The Republican Party of Virginia declined to comment on Omeish's comments in 2000.
"We'll wait to see who comes out of the primary," said party spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
Omeish was born in Libya but moved to Virginia with his family as a teenager, according to an interview he gave to the Baltimore Muslim Examiner last month. He is the chief of general surgery at INOVA Alexandria Hospital.
When Kaine accepted Omeish's resignation from the Virginia Commission on Immigration in 2007, Kaine commented, "Omeish is a respected physician and community leader, yet I have been made aware of certain statements he has made which concern me."
In the conference call with Clinton last week, which was advertised as a forum to discuss how to bridge the divide between the United States and the Muslim community, Omeish expressed support for President Obama and offered that Muslim-Americans needed to get more involved in politics.
"I am hopeful that the my friends on the far right and even some of those in the media, that continue to try and distort my record and my name, and continue to distort public perceptions of the Muslim community, will realize that we have a president and an administration, along with most of the American people, that are ready to move beyond divisive politics," he said on the call, according to a press release from his campaign office.
Editor's Note: The first published version of this story did not acknowledge the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which first uncovered the call between Clinton and Omeish.