Should Genocide Deniers Serve in Congress?

Dr. Oz should acknowledge the Armenian genocide or he is unworthy of being a United States Senator and should withdraw from the race.
September 23, 2022
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz holds a press conference with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) on September 6, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Last week Rolling Stone, Yahoo, and other national publications ran a story about the public tension between me and my close friend Dr. Mehmet Oz – a dual US and Turkish citizen – who is running for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania but who absolutely refuses to condemn the vicious antisemitism of Erdogan, who calls Jews Nazis and Hitler, and Erdogan’s brutal dictatorship which has destroyed Turkish democracy.

The ultimate test as to whether Dr. Oz will act independently as an American Senator or be bullied by Turkish tyrant is whether he publicly acknowledges the Armenian Genocide, where 1.5 million innocent men, women, and children were massacred by the Ottoman Turks during the First World War.

My Republican friends were furious. “Shmuley, you’re going to cost the GOP the Senate!” My obvious response was that there are values issues that infinitely transcend politics, and genocide-denial is foremost among them.

This week Ken Burns, America’s greatest documentary filmmaker, released his damning new three-part series about how America failed to save Jews during the holocaust. It is difficult watching. But when it appeared this week, I was so excited that I forsook the glories of Italy, where I was on a research trip, and holed up in my hotel room to watch it.

Even in this age of billion dollar streaming serious on Amazon Prime or $200 million movies on Netflix, I always go to Burn’s content first. Indeed, the subscription I have to PBS streaming documentaries, most of which are made by Ken, is the best 5 bucks I spend every month. For the cost of a Starbucks latte, I gain access to some of the greatest information about history ever presented in film.

But his series about the holocaust, and the dangers of genocide denial – especially as it affects American policy – is his crowning achievement.

In it we discover the miniscule efforts by the United States rescue the Jews of Europe over the four years of the holocaust where the Germans were averaging murdering 10,000 Jews a day. That’s three 9/11’s a day for 4 years. Yes, the United States, with Franklin Roosevelt at the helm, with our British and Russian allies, ultimately stopped the holocaust. And that was Roosevelt and the War Departments argument throughout the genocide. No military resources should be diverted to bombing the train tracks to Auschwitz or even the death camp itself because ultimately the best way to stop the killing was to defeat the Germans.

But as the documentary makes clear, there are several problems with this argument.

First, what if there were precious few Jews left to save? By the time, for example, the United States launched D-Day on 6 June, 1944, more than five million Jews had already been murdered?

Second, and much more relevant, is why didn’t America allow in Jewish refugees during the holocaust? OK, that’s not quite accurate. Burns’ estimates are that some 200,000 were allowed to emigrate to the United States from the rise of Hitler when Jews first faced barbarous persecution to the time Hitler blew his evil brains out. That’s approximately three percent of all the Jews murdered by the Nazis. Now, consider the fact that in the first year of the Biden Administration 1.5 million illegal immigrants came into the United States. Jewish immigrants during Hitler’s reign of terror averaged 17,000 per year.

Now, I realize that the situations are not comparable. Illegal and legal immigration are vastly during things. But one of the reasons that the Southern border is not more secure is that a huge number of Americans believe that we should not be turning away those who are fleeing persecution and poverty in Central and South America. Illegal immigration, therefore, is a potent political debate with whole cities and states declaring themselves sanctuaries because they oppose the Federal government’s commitment to deport undocumented immigrants.

The question then becomes, where was that groundswell of public opinion to welcome the Jews? The ship the St. Louis sat outside my hometown of Miami begging to allow just 1000 Jews from Germany to alight onto American soil. They were shipped back to Europe. More than a quarter would eventually be murdered by the Nazis.

Burns does an incredible job of demonstrating just how opposed to Jewish immigration America was at the time and how evil men like Charles Lindbergh, essentially an American Nazi, and Father Charles Coughlin, the wicked Catholic radio host, stoked American fears about Jews. Worst of all, of course, was Under-Secretary of State for Immigration, Breckenridge Long, an out-of-control antisemite presiding over all Visas to the United States who perhaps has more Jewish blood on his hands than any American during the holocaust.

Still, public opinion could have swayed the Administration to admit hundreds of thousands more Jews, and Burns portrays FDR himself as being personally sympathetic their immigration.

So why didn’t America save the Jews during the holocaust? It comes down, essentially, to two factors. The first is obvious: antisemitism and white supremacy. Too many people thought America a land of Anglo-Saxons and whites and that the scruffy Jews of Eastern Europe were Asiatic and racially undesirable.

But certainly not all Americans were racist. Indeed, the war would show just how gallantly the United States, once mobilized after the attack on Pearl Harbor, would fight to liberate Europe and ride the world of tyranny.

The second is the real reason. Americans simply could not believe that the holocaust – a continent-wide genocide – was actually occurring. We’re all familiar with how the New York Times and other publications buried news of the holocaust all the way in back of the newspaper. But even when stories of the holocaust actually hit the front papers, people read them incredulously. It simply could not be true that death factories using poison gas were murdering up to 40,000 people a day in Poland by the Germans.

Burns relates the story of Jan Karski, the heroic Polish emissary who smuggled himself into and out of Auschwitz and brought first-hand reports of the death factory to Western leaders. After he met FDR at the White House, the President told Karski to go to Felix Frankfurter, the Jewish Supreme Court Justice, and meet with him. Frankfurter told Karski that he could not believe what he was being told. It simply could not be true. At this, the Polish-Ambassador-in-Exile who had brought Karski to Frankfurter, jumped up and said, “Felix, how could you call this young man a liar?” And the justice responded, “I didn’t say he was a liar. I said that I can’t believe it.”

And the American inability to accept the truth about the holocaust had a direct bearing on our unwillingness to take in more Jewish refugees that might have saved millions of lives.

Indeed, only after reports about the holocaust began streaming in from nearly every source by the beginning of 1944 did Roosevelt, under pressure from his Jewish Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, agree to create the War Refugee Board, which would save some 250,000 Jews, mostly in Hungary.

Which brings us to the modern day and the upcoming midterm elections. As I have many friends who end up running for political office, I have often pondered what would make me ever criticize their candidacies in public. It was the main question bugging me about Senator Cory Booker, who had been a brother to me for 25 years and then, under withering political pressure, betrayed all his values and morals by voting for the Iran deal in 2015. I decided that my red line is genocide. Any politician who does not speak out against genocide, who does not actively work to prevent a genocide, or who denies a genocide, would, even if a friend, be criticized. After the Armenian, Rwandan, and Cambodian genocides, as well as Kosovo, Srebrenica, the Uighurs in China, and of course the holocaust, we have not learned to hold our elected representatives accountable for their cowardice or broken moral compass, then we have learned nothing.

Cory refused, and continues to refuse, to ever condemn Iran for their genocidal promises against Israel. And how Dr. Oz refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide – even though it’s the law of the United States, lest he anger the Turkish tyrant Erdogan.

I doubt my criticism of my friend Dr. Oz has any such power to cost the GOP the elections. But I do know that the six million – including my wife’s family who were murdered – are looking down at me at every moment, seeing if I am using the freedoms and liberties granted me by God in the United States, to ensure that Never Again is more than just an empty slogan.

Dr. Oz should acknowledge the Armenian genocide or he is unworthy of being a United States Senator and should withdraw from the race.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” 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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