Democrat becomes second Muslim elected to Virginia House

Virginia voters on Tuesday elected Ibraheem Samirah to fill a vacant seat in the state General Assembly, keeping the seat in Democratic hands.

Samirah, a Palestinian-American dentist, is now the second Muslim to be elected to the House of Delegates, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Samirah beat Republican Gregg Nelson and independent Connie Hutchinson for the post, which was left vacant after Democrat Jennifer Boysko was elected to the state Senate in January.

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Samirah received 59 percent of the vote in the special election, according to the Post.

The 27-year-old had faced criticism during the campaign after a conservative website resurfaced old social media posts.

In the Facebook posts, from 2014, Samirah harshly criticized Israel, including writing that late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should “burn a million times for every innocent soul you killed.” 

He also said that he agreed with a statement from musician Brian Eno that likened support for Israel to support for the Ku Klux Klan.

The posts surfaced around the same time as a photo from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) medical school yearbook page showing one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. The same conservative site that published Samirah’s posts also published the Northam yearbook photo.

Both incidents were seized on by conservatives, including Samirah’s GOP opponent, who said, “Racism has no place in our Commonwealth. Especially from individuals in office or seeking office.”

Samirah apologized in a statement, saying that he regrets the posts. He also said that as a second-generation Palestinian refugee, the conflict is an “intimate part” of his life.

“I am so sorry that my ill-chosen words added to the pain of the Jewish community,” he said. “I seek your understanding and compassion as I prove to you our common humanity.”

He referred to the publishing of the posts as a “slander campaign” using posts from his “impassioned college days.”

Samirah campaigned on a progressive platform that included advocating for universal pre-K, fighting climate change and expanding health care.