US elections: Why won't Dr. Oz discuss Israel in his campaign? - opinion

Dr. Mehmet Oz is running for Senate but his campaign is in need of fixing.

 PENNSYLVANIA REPUBLICAN Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks at an election event.  (photo credit: Hannah Beier/Reuters)
PENNSYLVANIA REPUBLICAN Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks at an election event.
(photo credit: Hannah Beier/Reuters)

The ailing Senate campaign for my friend Dr. Mehmet Oz is a tragedy in three acts. The first is for himself. America’s most famous doctor has been reduced to an AR-15 shooting, election-denying, fat-shaming caricature of the great physician he truly is. The second is for America, a country that desperately needs candidates of Dr. Oz’s caliber who might rescue us from the brain-dead vacuous, and hyper-partisan embarrassment that has become our national discourse.

But rather than serve as a political savior lending dignity to an increasingly fractured divide, Dr. Oz has jumped into the fray with gusto. 

And the third tragedy is for the Jewish community: the would-be first Muslim senator in American history, who has been a friend of Israel for decades, has suddenly refused through much of his campaign to even discuss the Jewish state, much less highlight its freedoms as the solution to the tyrannies of the Middle East.

Dr. Mehmet Oz's campaign

Long before launching a campaign that has been dismissed by critics as a national laughingstock, Mehmet and I had discussed for over a decade his passionate desire to bring values to American politics. But what intervened in between is the calamitous advice of cynical political professionals who advised America’s Doctor that he should run not as an above-the-fray healer but as a partisan hack. Not as an inspired leader but as an embittered follower. And not as a pro-Israel advocate but as someone who treats the Jewish state as an irrelevance to the real concerns of everyday Pennsylvanians.

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)

It was only when Mehmet dropped to the unimaginable ignominy of being 13 points behind in the polls, against an opponent who had not been seen for months in public because of a stroke, that the campaign suddenly remembered that Israel is a relevant issue and that Jewish campaign donors give generous support to those who back the Jewish state.

Suddenly, after nine months of my pleading, cajoling and begging Mehmet to do a single public event to declare his support for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition quickly organized a forum, replete with “OZ” in Hebrew lettering, where Mehmet finally embraced the words “ancestral Jewish homeland” to describe Israel, as opposed to his earlier Twitter characterization of Israel as a country given to the Jews as a result of the Holocaust. 

This was the same offensive argument made by Barack Obama in his 2009 Cairo speech, which was decried by supporters of the Jewish state the world over. Mehmet also reversed his earlier support for a Palestinian state, given in an interview to the Jewish Insider, and publicly declared that Israel should not cede any of its territory.If only he had overruled his advisers and said these things months ago.

What went wrong with a campaign that had so much promise?

How did a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon become the guy firing an assault weapon on TV in roughly the same week as the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas? 

How did a thoroughly good man – who for more than a decade agreed to take the calls day and night from countless strangers with medical emergencies to whom I introduced him – say of his opponent just last week, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke?” 

And how could Mehmet, whom I personally know to be a gracious and appreciative friend, have immediately erased Donald Trump from his entire campaign website the morning after the Republican primary was over, even though it was Trump’s endorsement that alone brought Mehmet a narrow victory in the razor-thin race?

To be sure, running for Senate was not the first time Dr. Oz faced criticism. Many antagonists spoke of him as a charlatan on TV promoting quack remedies. This was always a wretched lie. Mehmet is a world-class surgeon whose show was a model for how the medium of television can be used to inspire the nation to eat healthier, live healthier and get along better.

I worked with Dr. Oz on Oprah Radio. He was always the most brilliant physician who was a walking encyclopedia of information. When he graduated to his own TV show, which ran 13 seasons, it was never realistic to expect that there would never be any shows with questionable medical advice. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, including doctors. But overwhelmingly, Mehmet helped elevate America to more robust living. 

The same was true of his relationship with the Jewish state. In 2013, I took Mehmet and his family to Israel where we traveled the length and breadth of the Holy Land. We prayed at the Kotel and at the tomb of Maimonides in Tiberias, the media noting the fascinating symmetry of a world-famous Muslim doctor praying at the grave of history’s most celebrated Jewish physician, who served history’s greatest Muslim conqueror, Saladin.

Few Americans know better than Mehmet that Israel’s Jewish values and Western-style freedoms are critical to Middle East peace. Mehmet was born in the United States and raised partially in Turkey before the repressive Recep Tayyip Erdogan dictatorship took over, previously a great Muslim nation falling victim to a brutal, antisemitic tyrant who jails journalists and whose bodyguards literally beat up American citizens on US soil.

While in Jerusalem on our trip, Mehmet and his wife, Lisa, sought to go up to the Temple Mount. Mehmet was immediately admitted because he’s Muslim. Lisa, being Christian, was denied entry by guards from the Jordanian Wakf Islamic religious trust, which controls Judaism’s holiest site. But not once, in any synagogue or any place in Israel, were Mehmet or Lisa, as Muslim and Christian, denied any access to a single Jewish holy site. Indeed, they were warmly welcomed by renowned rabbis and even the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave Mehmet a lengthy briefing on the complexities of the Middle East. 

So what led Mehmet to publicly endorse a Palestinian state when even Joe Biden recently told PA leader Mahmoud Abbas that now is not the time for a state to come into existence? And why, if he now professes that Israel not surrender any territory, does he not state categorically – as does former secretary of state Pompeo, former vice president Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz and others – that Israel should annex the Jewish settlements in the ancient biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria?

There are, I believe, two answers. The first, as above, is the disastrous advice given by political consultants who convinced Mehmet that highlighting his commitment to Israel and his attachments to the Middle East would harm his campaign. Americans want to hear about domestic concerns like gas prices, immigration and inflation. Not about the Middle East.

That was always absurd. Americans love freedom. And voters, especially the Republican base, see Israel as the great bastion of liberty in the world’s most troubled region. Trump always understood this and said that he moved the embassy to Jerusalem to accommodate the wishes of his Evangelical base. True, Americans don’t want to be entangled in Middle Eastern wars. But they know that Israel fights its own battles and that never once has a single American soldier ever died in Israel’s relentless fight for freedom. 

The second is Mehmet’s reluctance to condemn the decline of democracy and personal liberties in Turkey under the tyrant Erdogan. I’m sympathetic to the predicament Mehmet finds himself in. Turkey is the land of his fathers and it’s not comfortable for anyone to criticize an ancestral homeland. But Dr. Oz surely knows that Turkey is no longer controlled by its people, who have always shown friendship to Israel, but by the dyed-in-the wool antisemitic tyrant Erdogan.

Note that Mehmet’s agreement to do his pro-Israel campaign event only took place on the exact same day that Turkey agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Israel and exchange ambassadors.

But as a United States senator he will be expected to challenge Erdogan’s support for Vladimir Putin and Iran, and, especially, his vile pronouncements about Jews, which include describing Israel as a Nazi state whose leaders are filled “with the spirit of Hitler,” and the Jewish people as genocidal fiends who delight in spilling innocent Palestinian blood. 

If Mehmet is not prepared to condemn these remarks now, then he should withdraw from his campaign for the Senate.

This includes Dr. Oz’s reluctance to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, in which 1.5 million innocent men, women, and children were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks. Acknowledging the genocide is now the law of the United States and Mehmet must get with the program, whatever Erdogan may think of it.

To be sure there are also major problems with the Israel positions of Mehmet’s opponent John Fetterman, the most significant of which is his endorsement of Biden’s proposed renewal of the Iran nuclear agreement, which would give the murderous mullahs of Tehran some $100 billion. Any validation of Iran’s nuclear program, whose sole purpose is to build a nuclear bomb by which Iran can realize its promise of destroying Israel and bringing “Death to America,” is an American abomination.

The Jewish community should engage Fetterman and educate him as to the perils of the Iran deal for world peace and the monstrous human rights abuses of the Tehran regime whose fatwa against Salman Rushdie saw him nearly murdered on American soil.

But at the same time I entreat my friend Dr. Oz, a man of exceptional goodness who has saved countless lives, to reject the advice of those who have tinged his campaign with fraudulence and return to his authentic self.

Teshuva, repentance in Judaism, whose emphasis starts now one month before the High Holy Days, means not penance from sin but a return to our original selves. 

Mehmet, you’re a doctor. Our country doesn’t need more anger to incite us. It needs a healer to unite it.

As the Talmud teaches, in a place where there are no men, rise and be that man. 

The writer, whom The Washington Post has called “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 36 books including The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.