RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH had long urged his close buddy Mehmet “Dr.” Oz to enter politics, and the two had spent many hours discussing how an Oz-led “values-based campaign” could bring people together. Boteach is appalled that Oz has taken his old friend’s advice and is vying for a Senate seat.
He’s not Dr. Oz, but he is a candidate for Senate. “This individual is completely unfamiliar to me,” Boteach, a prominent media figure and figure in hardline pro-Israel circles, told Rolling Stone. Boteach claims that Oz has become an “election-denying, genocide-denying caricature of an extremist” in his campaign for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.
Boteach, in a phone interview, criticized Oz for supporting Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, attacked the Republican Senate nominee over his views on the Armenian genocide and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoan, and criticized the campaign for its personal attacks against their Democratic opponent, John Fetterman.
Boteach joked that “space invaders” may have abducted Oz and replaced him with a morally corrupt double. Boteach, however, has some severe issues with the campaign, calling it a “disgrace,” “grotesque,” and a “festival of fraudulence.”
He also claims that Oz is unfit to serve in the Senate and should drop out “immediately” if he intends to continue campaigning in the same manner he has thus far.
This is especially true if Oz maintains his stance of being lenient with Turkey’s authoritarian leader. When contacted about Boteach’s remarks and the emails he exchanged with the campaign, a representative for Oz’s team did not respond.
Longtime Republican and former U.S. House candidate Boteach insists his criticism of Oz is not meant as support for Fetterman, but rather as a warning about Oz’s apparent lack of dedication to the ideas he had advocated during their partnership.
Oz and Boteach first crossed paths in the early 2000s through Oprah Winfrey’s numerous media outlets, where they both worked.
Their friendship was held up as a model of how different faiths can come together and achieve common goals, given that they were both very accomplished in their own right. Boteach writes with a great love of Oz, describing him and his family as frequent visitors to his house for Shabbat meals.
The Muslim Oz and the Jewish Boteach visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs and performed the Hora in Israel in 2013.
Emails and other exchanges acquired by Rolling Stone suggest, however, that friction between the rabbi and Oz had been building for months prior to this apparent breaking point. The GOP Senate nominee and his advisors received an angry email from Boteach on August 24 accusing Dr. Oz and his campaign of trying to discredit Fetterman because he suffered a stroke earlier this year.
A rabbi once remarked that “everyone with a bit of self-respect will condemn the conduct of a campaign that mocks a stroke victim,” and he was right. My dad had a stroke just at the start of COVID, and he didn’t make it. This is the lowest kind of gutter politics, and this comment is a disgrace.
Boteach continued, “I hoped that this campaign would motivate people. Oh, what a shame.
Boteach claims that Mehmet’s approach to Turkish President Erdoan is a major reason why Oz’s campaign has turned into a “tragedy for the Jewish people” and the United States as a whole. Oz’s opinion on Turkey’s president is “disqualifying” in Boteach’s eyes because he believes Erdogan to be “probably the world’s most ardent anti-Semite” and a despot who has hollowed out Turkish democracy.
In additional emails obtained by Rolling Stone, Boteach pleaded with Oz and the campaign to take a stronger stand on a number of subjects, including Isael and the Armenian genocide.
A close relative and adviser of Oz’s “told me I should stop pushing the Oz campaign to acknowledge the Armenian genocide as the Jewish community, for the most part, didn’t care about it and that the genocide is a disputed historical fact,” according to Boteach, who cc’d the candidate on an email expressing his frustration over the conversation and urging the campaign to acknowledge “historical fact.”
The rabbi calls it “necessary” to condemn “friends in positions of influence” who are indifferent to genocide or who deny its existence in the phone interview.
Oz, the son of Turkish immigrants, has chosen to avoid discussing his country’s role in the Armenian genocide during the Ottoman era.
His campaign spokespersons usually send out statements such as, “Dr. Mehmet Oz opposes genocide and the death of innocent people in all forms,” when he is asked about the matter.
It is important to remember the horrors of World War I. Taking an “All Lives Matter” approach to genocides, which Rabbi Shmuley and others deem profoundly insufficient, such comments generally leave out the words “Armenian genocide.”
Near the start of Oz’s Senate campaign last year, Boteach said in the Jerusalem Post, “Mehmet has proved to be a friend without compare, to me and the Jewish community at large.”
In the later stages of the campaign, that excitement faded. Boteach later wrote an article in which he criticized Oz’s campaign, calling it a “tragedy” for the Jewish community and blaming it on 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.”
When this summer ended, Rabbi Shmuley had had enough and no longer wanted to be involved with the Oz candidacy.
Messages between Boteach and Oz in June, obtained by Rolling Stone, revealed the former’s dismay that the campaign was becoming a “2020 election-denying, AR-15 wielding, Armenian genocide denying” debacle rather than the “values-based campaign” the two had discussed for years. I promise to be there for you as a friend. And I certainly won’t be your sycophant,” Boteach wrote.
When asked if he still considers Oz a friend — the new MAGAfied version, at least — the rabbi hesitates as he takes his private regrets public. He calls it a “legitimate question” before adding, “You’d have to ask him that.”