By most accounts, Esam Omeish is an affable Northern Virginia political candidate. He supports increased access to health care and is a champion of civil rights, according to those familiar with Omeish's campaign.
But there is another side to the candidate.
Omeish has made a slew of controversial comments throughout the years, ranging from his expressed support in 2000 for "the jihad way" as a means to "liberate" Palestine from "the Zionist entity in the Middle East" to his condemnation earlier this year of Israel's "crimes against humanity."
Comments such as these, in fact, led Omeish to resign from a Virginia state board on immigration a mere 24 hours after he was appointed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) in 2007.
Now, Omeish, the former president of the Muslim American Society, is running to become a Democratic state delegate in Virginia's 35th district, which encompasses areas of Burke, Centreville and Vienna.
The candidate is running on a typical Democratic platform - championing health care, education and transportation - but some in the Jewish community are finding it difficult to look past Omeish's disputatious remarks.
"I am troubled by Omeish's false and inflammatory public statements," Jerome Chapman, a Democratic political activist from Alexandria, said in a telephone voice mail, explaining that the candidate should explain his views to the voters.
In a slew of public speeches between 2000 and 2009, Omeish ardently denounced the "Israeli war machine," and ostensibly advocated for Palestinians to sacrifice their lives on behalf of the Muslim faith.
"You must look at the pictures and you will see a 6-year-old child opening his bare chest to the bullets of the Israelis and telling them, 'Go ahead and fire at my chest.' These are brothers and sisters who are literally giving up their lives to save the honor of the Muslims," Omeish declared in December 2000, during a Jerusalem Day rally in Washington, D.C. In that same speech, which can be viewed on YouTube, Omeish also asserts that "the Jihad way is the way to liberate your land [Palestine]."
Similar notes of protest have been struck in six separate speeches given by the candidate between 2004 and 2009, according to transcripts provided by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a nonprofit research group that has been tracking Omeish's comments.
"I pray for Allah ... to bless the martyrs in Gaza," Omeish said during a January speech at the Dar Al Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia, according to IPT. He also told the crowd that "our ability to transform ... reality starts from having that clear, unambiguous understanding that the land is the land of Allah."
Omeish did not respond to several interview requests and subsequently failed to answer a set of e-mailed questions, which were submitted last week at the request of a campaign official.
Because Omeish is engaged in an ongoing political race, representatives of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Anti-Defamation League declined to comment on the candidate.
Some Jews in Virginia are concerned.
"I think knowledgeable and fair-minded people should also be troubled by those statements and [Omeish] should be held accountable for them," Chapman said.
Debra Steppel, a Democratic activist from Reston, said she was surprised to find out that Omeish had leveled such extreme criticism toward Israel.
"He's a very friendly person when you meet him," Steppel said, explaining that she encountered Omeish in late March at a Democratic event, unaware that he was the same candidate who was involved in the 2007 debacle.
"I had no idea who he was until I looked him up and said, 'Oh, that's who he is!' " Steppel said.
Omeish, who immigrated from Libya as a child in 1982 and is now the chief of general surgery at Inova Alexandria Hospital, was last seen on the political landscape in 2007, when he agreed to serve as a member of the Virginia Commission on Immigration.
However, after Kaine learned about Omeish's radical views, the candidate quietly agreed to step down from the panel.
Steppel believes that the episode has failed to resonate in voter's minds.
"I don't know how many people in the community know [about] his comments," she said. "I think there is a huge lack of knowledge."
In fact, several people interviewed admitted knowing little about the candidate himself and even less about his past remarks.
Marc Greidinger, a member of the Braddock District Democratic Committee in Springfield, said it's imperative that the candidate explain his words in detail - "until somebody does that, you really need to ask yourself if they're trustworthy."
On the other hand, Greidinger was quick to praise Omeish's political efforts in Northern Virginia.
"I see nothing wrong" with his messages about health care and education, "but this seems to be a blind spot for him," Greidinger said.
Others, too, were quick to praise Omeish's on-the-ground endeavors.
"All of my dealings with Dr. Omeish ... have been respectful and I find him to be a man of compassion," said Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, who noted he had contributed funds to Omeish's campaign.
After being informed of the candidate's past comments, however, Moline said that he was "distressed" by what he had heard, characterizing it as "rabid antagonism." Nevertheless, the rabbi still felt that Omeish "has the potential to be a constructive contributor to the community."
Similarly, Del. David Englin (D-Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria) - one of three Jewish members in the Virginia House of Delegates - said in an interview that he has "had nothing but positive interactions with" Omeish.
Although the various statements about Israel give Englin "pause," his "own interactions with the guy have been positive."
Personality, though, is faulty reason to support a candidate such as Omeish, says Steve Emerson, the founder of IPT.
"I am sure Dr. Omeish in person is a very nice guy and comes across charmingly, but that masks a set of radical Islamic beliefs and extremist views," Emerson said in an e-mail. "The issue here is about an informed electorate."