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The Republican Jewish Coalition’s identity crisis

In spending an astounding $3 million on Dr. Oz's failed US Senate campaign, the group proved it has abandoned its pledge to further Jewish interests
Mehmet Oz, a Republican candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania, takes part in a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Mehmet Oz, a Republican candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania, takes part in a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Every year I travel to the Republican Jewish Coalition confab in Las Vegas with my wife Debbie. But this year, I’ll skip it (and not just because it falls on my birthday November 19th). No, I’ll be absent because the RJC is having a profound identity crisis that may only be solved with new leadership.

According to media reports, RJC head Matt Brooks announced that in October alone, the RJC was committing some $1.5 million to the Dr. Oz for Senate race in Pennsylvania. By the end of the month, he was doubling down – bringing the total spent on Oz on all platforms to more than $3 million – with an astounding $1.85 million spent on TV ads alone.

Wow, what a waste. Dr. Oz lost decisively to John Fetterman – a stroke survivor who just six months earlier had almost died and whom Oz had mocked – and which ultimately cost the GOP the Senate as Fetterman was the only candidate to flip a Republican seat.

But in politics you win some and you lose some and that’s not the real issue. Rather, why did Matt Brooks decide to spend more on Dr. Oz than any other Senate candidate in the RJC’s history? As I’ve noted in multiple columns, once his campaign started Dr. Oz was lukewarm at best on Israel, something I brought to Matt’s attention on many occasions.

Second, why was the RJC spending money to boost Dr. Oz in the African-American community in very expensive TV attack ads that describe a 2013 incident, where Fetterman pursued and pulled a shotgun on an unarmed Black jogger, as “outrageous vigilantism” that is “absolutely disqualifying for someone wanting to be a United States senator.”

Seriously? Isn’t the fact that Dr. Oz is a genocide and election denier even more disqualifying? How about Dr. Oz fat-shaming his opponent, a father of three young children, for having had a stroke because he didn’t eat his veggies? Based on Jewish values, was that not disqualifying?

And third, there are nearly half a million Jews in Pennsylvania, the overwhelming majority of whom, like the African-American community, vote Democrat. So why was the RJC spending $1.5 million not on influencing the Jewish vote but the African-American vote by implying that Fetterman is a racist, which in any event is just a crude lie?

Dr. Oz had written last January that Israel was given to the Jews as a response to the holocaust, a position that Republicans condemned Barack Obama for taking in 2009 in Cairo, rather than it being the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. Was that not disqualifying?

And if Matt Brooks would argue that Oz is a Republican and he wanted the GOP to control the Senate, well then, what’s the difference between the Republican National Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition? Or is Brooks insinuating that the Republican part is what’s really important and the Jewish part just an adjective to raise Jewish money?

The total waste of money on a candidate who was never wonderful on Jewish issues goes to the heart of the RJC’s identity crisis.

Everyone knows that Dr. Oz and I were extremely close friends for some 15 years and that I took him to Israel in 2013 with the help of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. But as soon as he started to run for Senate, Dr. Oz almost entirely ignored support for Israel. For eight months, despite my constant pleading and begging, he and his chief advisor, Larry Weitzner, to whom I had introduced Oz and whose company Jamestown does work for the RJC, refused to highlight Israel in the campaign, even as Oz went on to endorse a Palestinian State and tweet that Israel came about as a response to the Holocaust. The Oz campaign would not acknowledge or publish that Israel was the “ancestral homeland” of the Jewish people and even seemed to remove it from a press document that I helped Oz and Larry craft.

I shared all this and more with Matt Brooks of the RJC as he began to insert himself into the Oz campaign and help Dr. Oz obtain meetings with leading GOP Jewish donors which Oz had not earned. Why would Brooks do that before Oz had come out as resoundingly pro-Israel?

I explained to Matt that no one in the Jewish community knew Oz better than I did. I said that I was profoundly worried about Oz’s abandonment of the Jewish state, endorsement of a Palestinian state (which would become another Gaza-Hamas failed state), and his refusal to distance himself from Erdogan of Turkey, with whom Oz dines publicly in New York, and Erdogan’s horrific “the-Jews-are-Hitler-and-Nazis” antisemitism.

Oz is not Turkish-American. He is Turkish and American, having been the first-ever candidate for the United States Senate with acknowledged dual citizenship to run. There is nothing wrong with that. Turkey before Erdogan was a great Islamic democracy. But the tyrant Erdogan destroyed Turkey’s freedoms and imposed his personal tyranny, jailing countless journalists. Oz has refused utterly to ever say a word against Erdogan. Worse, Oz had denied the Armenian genocide, which is not just an abomination to Jewry but is a clear sign of Erdogan’s undefined control over Oz.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was even more adamant. Last May he cited Oz’s ties to the Turkish government and refusal to publicly condemn the Turkish tyrant Erdogan while remaining a citizen of Turkey and voting in their elections as a national security concern and not just one that complicates his support for Israel. “We and the people of Pennsylvania and the Americans who he will be representing as one of the 100 members of the United States Senate voting on important national security matters need to understand the scope and depth of his relationship with the Turkish government,” Pompeo said. “There are still things we don’t know about his connections to the Turkish government… The campaign owes the people of Pennsylvania an explanation for this.”

I never told Brooks not to support Oz. Rather, I told him to push the candidate to publicly support Israel and distance himself from Erdogan, the world’s most vocal antisemite who makes Kanye West seem like a synagogue cantor. Only then should Dr. Oz get the RJC’s support. Was that asking too much?

But Brooks told me that Oz had done enough with a pro-Israel statement on his website. He also seemed to imply that his priority was a Republican controlled Senate and the seat in Pennsylvania was critical.

I was incredulous. Are you guys the “Republican Coalition,” or the “Republican Jewish Coalition?” If the RJC was simply a branch of the Republican party with no emphasis on Jewish interests or values, I wanted no part of it. There were plenty of larger and more influential Republican organizations I could have joined.

But I am a Jew.

The issue remained unresolved. Indeed, Brooks announced unbelievably that the RJC would prioritize the Oz race as their most important of the entire midterms season.

What? Why? Where was Oz even a leader on any issues about Israel? And what gave Brooks the right to take a huge amount of the RJC’s total spend to support Oz without any concomitant commitment on the part of the candidate to lead on issues of Jewish concern?

Spending some $2 million dollars on the Oz campaign alone is an absolute fortune for a small organization that is perhaps a twentieth of the size of AIPAC.

Brooks later organized Oz’s only public event for Israel on 18 August, which bizarrely was the exact same day that Erdogan agreed to send his Ambassador to Jerusalem, thereby wrongly sending the message that Oz was taking cues from Istanbul.

Oz shakes hands with former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, during a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Of course, it was a fundraiser. What could have motivated Oz and his team to finally highlight Israel which they had steadfastly refused to do? Perhaps it was the fact that Oz by now was 13 points behind in the polls and was desperately short of cash.

It always bothers me when candidates see the Jewish community as an ATM, but I will return to that in a later column.

Brooks approached my friend Ambassador David Friedman to introduce Oz. I called David and shared with him that the idea of someone of his stature, who has presided over Trump’s move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, endorsing Oz while he would not call Israel the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, but rather as some consolation prize for the holocaust, was a mistake. To David’s immense credit, he did what the RJC had refused to do. He got the Oz campaign to write exactly that in a tweet. Shortly after my conversation with David, Dr. Oz tweeted, “I will be meeting this week with Ambassador David Friedman in Philly. Amb Friedman is a powerful advocate for the US-Israel relationship and the rights of the Jewish People to live anywhere in their ancestral homeland. I endorse Amb Friedman’s views and look forward to our event.” This easily proved that all along Matt Brooks and the RJC could have exerted the same successful pressure months earlier.

In the end, all Brooks accomplished by pushing Friedman into the impossible role of endorsing a candidate who was never great on Israel was to compromise a great Jewish leader. When Oz lost in the most focused on race in the country that cost the GOP the Senate, it further undermined the credibility not just of a great man like Friedman but of the entire RCJ.

And throughout the campaign Larry Weitzner continued as Oz’s principal political advisor, defending everything I questioned, such as Oz posting a TV ad with an assault rifle, mocking a stroke survivor, and denying the 2020 election.

So where do we go from here?

First, Matt Brooks and the RJC leadership must provide an explanation as to why Dr. Oz was the person they most supported in the midterms? There must be accountability.

Second, it’s time the RJC became more Jewish. Unlike AIPAC, which never does events that violate the Sabbath even though it’s not an orthodox organization, the RJC insists on their conference occurring mostly on the Sabbath in Las Vegas, so that the use of microphones, video, and more all violates the Sabbath’s sanctity. Even the IAC, which is an Israeli-American and not a religious organization, is infinitely more respectful of Judaism than the RJC, which only became kosher a few years ago. And think about it: unlike AIPAC and the IAC, many, if not most, of the RJC’s top political speakers are very religious evangelical Christians, like George W. Bush, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Kristi Noem, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbot, and more. What do you think they’re thinking as they go up on a microphone and video screen on the day they know the Jews are not supposed to be doing that? Should they be taking Judaism more seriously than the Jews?

I even remember when Donald Trump came to the RJC on Saturday, April 6th, 2019. Yes, Trump was the greatest friend Israel ever in the White House. But he has an Orthodox Jewish daughter and grandchildren. Why couldn’t the RJC have asked the president to come on a Friday or Sunday, which he no doubt would have respected? It was really strange having an actual presidential rally broadcast live from the RJC on Shabbos! Later that year, at the IAC Conference in Florida, Dr. Miriam and her husband, the late Sheldon Adelson, the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropists, hosted President Trump and made sure to do it on a Saturday night, after Shabbat ended. The RJC can still host speeches and debates on the Sabbath. But they don’t need video and a microphone and the Christian Republican leaders will respect us even more for respecting our faith.

Finally, it’s time the RJC focused on Jewish values and not just support for Israel. We in the Jewish community should exert every effort to be not just an ATM for candidates, but to influence them to fight tyranny and evil, to stand up for justice, to respect human rights, and to continue to make America the great light of freedom and democracy to the world.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.