The identity crisis of the Republican Jewish Coalition

The identity crisis of the Republican Jewish Coalition

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 November 19 — my birthday. No, I’ll be absent because the RJC is having a profound identity crisis that may be solved only 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 Dr. Oz’s 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 whom just six months earlier had almost died and whom Oz had mocked — and that 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 “describes a 2013 incident, where Fetterman pursued and pulled a shotgun on an unarmed Black jogger, as “outrageous vigilantism,” as the RJC termed it, 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, that 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 on influencing not 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 rather than because it is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. That is the position that Republicans condemned Barack Obama for taking in 2009 in Cairo. 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 is 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 that 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 me. 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; he was the first candidate for the United States Senate with an 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 his refusal to publicly condemn the Turkish tyrant Erdogan while remaining a citizen of Turkey and voting in its elections as not just a complication to Oz’s support for Israel, but a national security concern. “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 simply was 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 its most important of the entire midterm 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 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. It was on August 18, 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.

Of course, it was a fundraiser. What could have motivated Oz and his team to finally highlight Israel? Perhaps it was the fact that Oz by now was 13 points behind in the polls and 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 had 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, which 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 holds events that violate the Sabbath even though it’s not an Orthodox organization, the RCJ insists on its 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 others. 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 6, 2019. Yes, Trump was the greatest friend Israel ever had 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. 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.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “Holocaust Holiday:
One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell.” Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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