Monday, May 20, 2024

Candidate Oz Must Come Clean on Entanglements with Turkey’s Islamist Regime

Opinion & InterviewOpinionCandidate Oz Must Come Clean on Entanglements with Turkey's Islamist Regime

Senate candidate and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz has been hamstrung by allegations that he possesses dual loyalties to Turkey’s hardline Islamist government. Now, fresh off his primary victory in Pennsylvania, the daytime TV host must finally come clean about his troubling business and political ties to the Turkish government.

Throughout the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, Oz failed to provide satisfactory answers about his connections to the increasingly authoritarian regime that governs his parental homeland. The daytime TV host insisted that he’s “never been involved in Turkish politics,” despite voting in the country’s 2018 elections and appearing in public with Turkish officials and foreign agents.

Oz’s financial disclosure report failed to provide a clear picture about his real estate assets in Turkey or a lucrative endorsement deal with the government-owned Turkish Airlines. What’s more, Oz agreed to renounce his Turkish citizenship – but only if he wins in November.

While he is unlikely to disclose the complete nature of his relationship with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), information uncovered from Turkish-language media and analysis from Turkish journalists provides much-needed clarity on Oz’s foreign entanglements.

In March, Oz sought to quash allegations that he harbored loyalties to Turkey by pledging to renounce his citizenship with the country — but only if he wins the Senate race. The doctor’s critics, including his potential Senate colleagues, are not satisfied with the promise.

“Why then? Why not now?” asked Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If you want to be a U.S. senator, you should tell the people of Pennsylvania that your only allegiance is to the United States,” he said.

Oz claims that he must maintain his dual citizenship to care for his “ailing mother,” who lives in Turkey and suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. However, he has not explained how forfeiting his Turkish citizenship will make it difficult to supervise his mother’s medical care.

According to Abdullah Bozkurt, an exiled Turkish journalist living in Sweden, even if Oz does not want to be inconvenienced by traveling to Turkey as a foreigner, he could always apply for a Blue Card and retain all of the benefits of Turkish citizenship.

“Renouncing Turkish citizenship is important, but it does not really have a huge impact in Turkey,” explained Bozkurt, founder of the Nordic Research & Monitoring Network. “The Erdoğan government created the so-called Blue Card for Turkish expats, specifically in Germany where dual nationalities are not accepted for Turks, so that they can do business in Turkey and obtain access to public services just like Turkish citizens.”

The Turkish Citizenship Law states that “Turkish citizens may request permission to renounce their citizenship in order to acquire the citizenship of another country to benefit from its economic, social and political rights.” Blue Card holders enjoy “the rights granted to the Turkish citizens,” except for a few exceptions, such as “rights to vote or be elected.”

Some Republican Senators have jumped to Oz’s defense. “For a guy who has dual citizenship, he’s been critical of Erdoğan, which I think probably inoculates him further,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who endorsed Oz in the GOP primary.

However, Oz only criticized the Turkish regime after a December 23 National Review report (from this author) exposed his many entanglements with Turkey’s government. He responded with an essay published at the Washington Examiner that was loaded with patriotic nostalgia, conjuring images of “Soviet missiles,” Ronald Reagan, and “the American dream.”

This appears to be the first time Oz went on the record admonishing the government of Turkey. “Things have since changed in the land of my parents’ birth. The Turkish government of today is very different from what it was in the 1980s,” he wrote. “I have deep concerns about many of its authoritarian domestic policies and harmful foreign policies.”

In the same article, Oz went to extraordinary lengths to not only distance himself from the Turkish government, but to erase his Turkish Islamic heritage altogether. “We raised our four children as Christians and beamed with joy watching them and our four grandchildren become baptized,” he wrote.

In addition, the Senate candidate said he was “raised as a secular Muslim.” Certainly, Oz is not an Islamist. He calls himself a Sufi and a spiritualist, and he is even known to dabble with his wife’s Swedborgian traditions.

However, Oz may not have experienced the secular upbringing he claims. In a 2011 interview with Turkish television channel NTV, the doctor’s late father Mustafa Oz related how his son was introduced to the controversial founder of Turkish political Islam.

“Of all the politicians, Mehmet knew Necmettin Erbakan first in Turkey,” Mustafa said, describing how he and his 8-year-old son were invited to pray with Erbakan, then a student of Oz’s uncle.

“I did not go, but he wanted Mehmet to come to him. Mehmet performed his first prayer with Erbakan,” Mustafa Oz recalled.

More than any other Turkish leader, Erbakan was responsible for turning Turkey away from its history of strict secularism towards the Islamist politics adopted by today’s ruling AKP. He was known for harboring fiercely anti-Western and anti-Semitic beliefs and was a patron of the pan-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement.

“Erbakan was the chief mentor of Erdoğan along the ideology he named the National View,” said Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum. “That view is not Salafist or Wahhabist but strictly anti-Western. It envisages a world order where the supreme power is a united Muslim world led by Turks.”

In a separate interview, Mustafa Oz admitted that he “helped Necmettin Erbakan a lot when he entered politics.” To some extent, the elder Oz appeared to share Erbakan’s disdain for the United States and Western society.

“Yes, I was there during the U.S. elections, but I did not vote,” Mustafa Oz confessed in 2013. “Because even though I have been there for nearly 50 years, I have never felt like an American.”

Dr. Oz came under fire earlier this month, when an image shared by the Turkish Consulate in Manhattan showed the Senate hopeful casting a ballot in Turkey’s 2018 election. Oz, who typically participates in U.S. elections, failed to vote in his state’s 2018 primary.

“Not only did [Oz] not engage in the American political process, but he engaged in the Turkish political process,” said former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who broke with Donald Trump and endorsed Oz’s opponent, David McCormick. “And that raises, in my mind, lots of judgments about his priorities,” he added.

Oz’s financial relationship with Ankara remains a mystery, as well. In April, the doctor missed an opportunity to come clean about the extent of these ties when he released his financial disclosure report. His opponents have questioned his business relationship with Turkish Airlines, which is 49 percent-owned by the Turkish government and controlled by the AKP.

Turkish Airlines has been used in the past to reward loyalty among Turkish Americans who support the regime’s objectives. In an leaked email, Halil Ibrahim Danismaz, a Turkish businessman who was questioned by the FBI for suspected political espionage, explained that his job at Turkish Airlines was merely a front, “and he would get paid even without showing up at work as long as the AKP would rule.”

Oz, who appears in commercials and pre-flight safety videos on every Turkish Airlines flight, listed the airliner on his disclosure report but did not reveal his earnings from the endorsement deal.

Financial disclosure records also indicate that Oz owns hundreds of thousands of dollars in Turkish real estate property. However, Bozkurt warned that the actual value is likely much higher.

“Deliberately low prices in sale deeds is a common practice in Turkey and does not reflect actual market value,” the investigative reporter said. He added that Oz’s disclosure “specifically refer to figures by tax assessment,” which are purposefully deflated “to pay minimum tax.”

These assets, including a dormitory in Konya, Turkey, that is leased to the nation’s Ministry of Education at no cost, are the subject of a lawsuit between Oz and a sibling over the division of their father’s estate. Oz elected to withhold the details of these properties until the litigation is complete, although his father told NTV that the six-story, 200-student dormitory in Konya exceeded $2 million.

Prior to his death in 2019, Mustafa Oz shared a bold prediction. He projected that his son would continue filming his daytime television show for a few more years, “then he’ll be governor or senator.”

“My guess is my son is on his way to the presidency. If Mehmet were the president of the USA today, Israel would not be able to treat Turkey like this today,” Mustafa Oz promised.

When it comes to Israel, Oz’s views would likely disappoint his late father. He supports the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and rejects Israeli boycotts as “anti-Semitic.” Oz and his family are close to celebrity Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, who called Oz “a great friend of Israel” in a December op-ed at the Jerusalem Post.

Still, it is unclear how a Senator Dr. Oz would respond to foreign policy differences between Israel and Turkey, which provides a safe haven for Palestinian terrorists.

In fact, it is difficult to predict how Oz would legislate on a number of domestic and foreign policy issues. Despite a very public persona, he has managed to obscure his relationship with Turkish heads-of-state and their U.S. proxies.

Yet, Americans deserve better answers from the TV star. Oz must explain his relationship with Turkish Islamists such as Erdoğan and Erbakan, his apparent childhood mentor. He should disclose the true value of his Turkish real estate holdings and reveal how much his Turkish Airlines endorsement deal is truly worth.

Finally, if Oz wants to earn the trust of Pennsylvanians, he must renounce his Turkish citizenship, and soon. Until he does, Americans have the right to question Oz’s loyalty and wonder why he wishes to prolong his allegiance to an oppressive authoritarian state.

Benjamin Baird is the director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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