When Libyan leader Moammar Kaddafi decided to set up camp, literally, in Englewood, N.J., during his upcoming visit to the U.S. for the United Nations General Assembly next month, he likely did not realize that his next-door neighbor would be one of this country’s best-known and most outspoken rabbis, with a gift for media attention.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author and host of a cable television show, “Shalom in the Home,” dealing with family conflicts, is in no “love thy neighbor” mood when it comes to Kaddafi, and he is making it known, including plans to sue the Libyan government for damaging his property.
Rabbi Boteach says he woke up one morning two months ago and noticed a disturbing sight on the grounds of his home. Eight large trees and a metal fence, which separated his property from his neighbor’s, were gone. The trees had been chopped down overnight, and the fence had been removed.
The perpetrators, claims Rabbi Boteach, were his neighbors, representatives of the Libyan government. The damage to his property and concurrent renovations on the neighboring home, a residence of the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations that had been in disrepair since the rabbi and his family moved to New Jersey a decade ago, led him to guess — correctly — why uncared-for property was suddenly being cared for: Libyan leader Moammar Kaddafi was coming.
Libya subsequently announced that Kaddafi, who has ruled the Arab nation in northern Africa since a military coup 40 years ago, would attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 15, and would live in a tent on the Englewood property during his U.S. sojourn.
Find somewhere else to stay, the rabbi said.
Rabbi Boteach announced at a press conference at his house this week that he is suing the Libyan government for damaging his property, and he wants an accounting of the high-tech surveillance apparatus that will likely be installed in the Libyan house as part of security measures before Kaddafi’s arrival.
Rabbi Boteach will sponsor a protest rally at his house, with the participation of local government officials, on Sunday at 11 a.m.
The Libyan Mission to the UN did not respond to a Jewish Week request for a comment on the controversy.
The suit — to be filed in a yet-to-be-determined court — “is a statement … I don’t want Kaddafi as my next-door neighbor,” Rabbi Boteach said. “I don’t want a terrorist living next door to me. I suggest he pitch his tent in the UN compound [in Manhattan]. They’re his hosts.”
(The Libyan leader’s request to camp out in Central Park was denied by city officials.)
The rabbi says he was angered by the welcome Kaddafi gave last week to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only convicted bomber in the case of the Pan Am flight that exploded in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Two hundred and seventy people, including 189 Americans, were killed.
Al-Megrahi, suffering from terminal cancer, was released from Scottish prison, setting off furious protests in the U.S. and the West.
Libyan television showed Kaddafi embracing the terrorist.
“He clearly is a lover of terrorists, an abettor of terrorists, a champion of terrorists,” Rabbi Boteach told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview.
Englewood officials told Rabbi Boteach that the Libyan property there “was millions of dollars in arrears in property taxes, with the Libyan government claiming immunity from local taxation, even though the same claim was being made on a property in New York and an exemption is provided for only one residence,” he wrote last week in the Jerusalem Post. “Orthodox Jews account for a very large percentage of Englewood’s tax revenue, and since Kaddafi’s embassy refuses to pay a dime in taxation, it is our community which in no small measure finances the basic services of his mansion.”
A Libyan representative at the site, who said he was “under instructions” to be “very accommodating” to the rabbi, initially said the government would replace the trees and pay for the fence, Rabbi Boteach said. “It was supposed to be done immediately.” He later told the rabbi that the decision to repair and pay for the damage was to be the responsibility of the government. “It had been taken out of his hands.”
The trees are still missing, says the rabbi, who says he has not received any payment for the damage. “The government has been utterly contemptuous of the residents of Englewood.”
“Every dollar” the rabbi’s family receives from Libya “is one less dollar to plant bombs,” he said.
“There are damages. I want the trees replanted,” the rabbi says. “I want to insure that my right to privacy is ensured.
“The community is united in not wanting Kaddafi,” Rabbi Boteach said. Including Englewood’s Muslim residents, he said. “American Muslims are God-fearing, decent, hardworking citizens, and I believe they share my hatred of terrorism.”