Dr. Oz must clarify his position on Israel - opinion

Dr. Oz has always expressed strong pro-Israel views and has always been a strong friend of the Jewish community. But his campaign failed to strongly articulate what his policies on Israel would be.

 DR. MEHMET OZ smiles as he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February. (photo credit: JC Olivera/Getty Images/TNS)
DR. MEHMET OZ smiles as he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February.
(photo credit: JC Olivera/Getty Images/TNS)

Dr. Mehmet Oz is a proud Turkish-American Muslim and one of the world’s most famous physicians. I also call him a close friend.

Having just won the Pennsylvania Republican primary, Dr. Oz has a good chance of being elected to the Senate in November.

Supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship like me want to know that politics has only strengthened, rather than possibly weakened, his heretofore strong public support for Israel. The Jewish community learned from friends like Cory Booker – my former student president at Oxford University and someone who was once as close to me as a brother – that politics can change people’s policies.

In Cory’s case it was the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement that ruptured his relationship with the pro-Israel community. Now, with President Joe Biden trying thus far unsuccessfully to revive the deal, Cory has the opportunity to do teshuva and strongly oppose a deal that legitimizes and funds a monstrous and barbaric government, dedicated to the Jewish people’s annihilation.

Dr. Oz has always expressed strong pro-Israel views and has always been a strong friend of the Jewish community. But his campaign during the primary failed to strongly articulate what his policies vis-à-vis Israel would be. Going into the general election, there is no alternative but to do so emphatically.

Pennsylvania Republican US Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks at his primary election night watch party in Newtown, Pennsylvania, US, May 17, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH BEIER)Pennsylvania Republican US Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks at his primary election night watch party in Newtown, Pennsylvania, US, May 17, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH BEIER)

Dr. Oz is a celebrity in Turkey and understandably feels a strong connection to his parents’ birthplace. I have always respected him for strongly affirming his Turkish roots and his Muslim faith. He has earned my trust by doing so. I once visited Turkey with him, and on a subsequent visit to Istanbul I was sure to visit his lovely parents, who welcomed us with open arms.

But I can also understand that this creates a delicate situation for him, because he is reticent to take positions, such as recognizing the Armenian Genocide, which might antagonize the people of Turkey, who have long been proud of his achievements. I can also understand that for others there might be reticence about giving full-throated support to Israel given the tensions between Turkey and Israel in the last few years.

OF COURSE, on both issues, I believe that Mehmet, as a man of deep faith and conviction, should stand on principle, whatever the consequences. Knowing him for 15 years, I am sure he feels the same.

This is, I’m sure, especially true given his participation many years at our Holocaust memorial galas with Elie Wiesel, when the great witness to genocide was still alive. Dr. Oz understands that there can be no compromise in genocide memory, and that the Jewish community is passionately devoted to the memory of the 1.5 Armenians slaughtered in the genocide.

And now Turkey is showing signs of warming ties with Israel. This month the Turkish foreign minister was in Israel, which is an extremely positive development.

Still, the Jewish community understandably remains very wary of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his vicious attacks on Israel for over a decade.

Dr. Oz has spoken at our annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala several times. I have had the pleasure of hosting him for discussions on issues of mutual concern, and he has always been forthright, insightful and committed to many of the same values we believe in as Jews.

On Israel, too, he has been candid, thoughtful and mindful of the security dilemmas Israel faces. He and his family joined me for a trip to Israel in 2013. Before leaving, he said, “Being of Turkish and of the Muslim faith, I have always appreciated the deep ties and friendship between the Turkish people and the Israeli people. Being an American, I appreciate Israel’s friendship with the American people and my close friendship with the American Jewish community.”

During the trip, he had the privilege of meeting with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We visited hospitals and medical research facilities. He also went to Hebron with me, even though I warned him he would likely get pilloried by Israel’s critics for doing so. Still, he agreed to go and danced with Israeli soldiers outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

One of my goals, which was accomplished, was to convince him to refer to the area accurately as Judea and Samaria, their ancient biblical names, rather than the politically based and ideologically charged term “West Bank.”

I wrote after the trip how “Mehmet’s love for Israel and the Israeli people and his awe at their accomplishments were evident in every place we visited, from the Golan in the North to Eilat in the South.”

In a policy memo obtained by Jewish Insider before the primary, Oz checked all the pro-Israel position boxes.

He referred to Israel as “a vital American ally” and “vibrant democracy.” Referring to his trip with me, he said, “I was welcomed with warmth and respect by members of all faiths, and witnessed a country with millions of Jews, Muslims, and Christians living and worshipping freely and united by a shared commitment to coexistence and peace.”

Oz praised president Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US Embassy there, and declared the city should remain “undivided.”

He endorsed ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge and promised to support US diplomacy opposing the UN’s discriminatory policies toward Israel. He pledged to fight the “antisemitic BDS movement” and support the Taylor Force Act, which is supposed to deny US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay jailed terrorists and the families of murderers, but is being ignored by the Biden administration.

Oz also agreed with my view that the Obama nuclear deal with Iran was “badly flawed,” that Trump was right to withdraw from it, that maximum-pressure sanctions should be applied to Iran, and that “nuclear weapons in the hands of such a regime are totally unacceptable.”

Finally, he recognized the “historic leap for diplomacy and brotherhood” of the Abraham Accords. He advocated capitalizing on them to “further deepen ties, heal the region, and promote hope in the world.”

In an April interview with the Jewish News Syndicate, Oz reiterated many of these points, telling Dmitriy Shapiro, “I think Muslims should be leaders in protecting Israel.”

Reflecting on his trip with me, he said, “I went to Israel once, but we toured the entire country. The Adelsons had arranged for me to travel there with Rabbi Shmuley, and it was in 2013. And it was an important decision to go there. You know, this is a point that I’ve had all along.... Shmuley was very clear with me that calling [it] the West Bank is not the right historical term in Judea and Samaria, which is obviously the West Bank of the Jordan River. It’s like calling Pennsylvania the West Bank of the Delaware, and when you mix history and politics, you get politics. And I think we should be clear on that history. But I went to where some of the patriarchs were buried. We went up to a beautiful vineyard.”

He also recognized the importance of Israel having secure borders. “I would not compromise that,” he said.

So, what more can he say?

FIRST, HE needs to repudiate something he said in another interview with Jewish Insider. He recognized an obstacle to peace is the “lack of strong leadership on the Palestinian side.” He got that right, but then he said, “If you could make a Palestinian state with strong leadership, that would be wonderful.”

A Palestinian state would be a disaster. The Palestinians would not be satisfied with a state as imagined by two-state advocates. As they openly say, their objective is to replace Israel, not live beside it peacefully. My friend Dr. Oz seemed to recognize that, and therefore added in the next breath, “But look what happened with Gaza.”

There can’t be any confusion. Mehmet is a world-famous surgeon but obviously has less foreign policy experience. But as a senator, he will be in the big leagues where decisions affect Israel’s security. He needs to be unequivocal that there cannot be a 23rd Arab state carved out of the Jewish homeland (one of the 22, Jordan, was created from roughly three-fourths of that homeland).

He must also reiterate the consensus Republican view expressed by the Trump administration that settlements are neither illegal nor an obstacle to peace. He should support the right of Jews to live anywhere in their homeland – it’s outrageous that “pro-peace” activists maintain the only place in the world Jews should not be allowed to live in is Judea and Samaria.

I’d love to see him go further and, like former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, endorse the annexation of all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

ONE WAY or another, Pennsylvania will likely have a pro-Israel senator, no matter who wins in the fall.

Though he considers himself a progressive and shares the views of the Left on social issues, Democratic nominee John Fetterman has also said what friends of Israel would like to hear.

He told Jewish Insider, “Whenever I’m in a situation to be called on to take up the cause of strengthening and enhancing the security of Israel or deepening our relationship between the United States and Israel, I’m going to lean in.... The relationship is a special one that needs to be safeguarded, protected, supported, and nurtured through legislation and all available diplomatic efforts in the region.”

He opposes the BDS movement, opposes putting conditions on aid to Israel, and believes in Israel’s “supreme right to defend itself, especially when there are thousands of rockets being indiscriminately fired at innocent civilians.”

But I am deeply and understandably bothered that, unlike Oz, Fetterman thinks the US shouldn’t have withdrawn from the nuclear deal and supports the Biden administration’s effort to return to it, though he also says “a nonnuclear Iran is a priority for the region.” I reiterate. A deal giving $100 billion to Iran so that it can murder innocents around the world, as well as legitimizing its nuclear ambitions, is an American abomination. Fetterman should repudiate the deal now, as should Booker.

I have not seen anything Fetterman may have said about settlements or Judea and Samaria beyond supporting a two-state solution. His support for the Abraham Accords is encouraging.

Neither candidate should take the pro-Israel vote for granted. They would be wise to listen to the counsel of those who wish to see them commit to policies that will strengthen Israel’s security and the US-Israel relationship and hopefully topple the bloodthirsty tyrants of Tehran so that the Iranian people can eventually be free.

The writer, whom Newsweek calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” has just published Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocode Memory Hell. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.