Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, is finally roasting in hell after dying peacefully in his bed in Libya, surrounded by family and friends, rather than in the cell to which he was condemned for murdering 270 innocent people on Pan Am 103 in December, 1988. But even with the two principal murderers of these innocents–Gaddafi and Megrahi–now gone, what remains is a Lockerbie hall of shame of those who were either collaborators or looked the other way at Libyan tyranny. A day of reckoning awaits.
Foremost among them are the Scottish authorities who assured us three years ago that Megrahi was at death’s door but who ironically outlived Gaddafi himself. All documents detailing the secret deals that were done for the terrorist’s release must see the light of day, so we can know whether the sacred memory of 270 victims was sold so that British oil companies like BP could benefit. We also need to know which British officials negotiated his release. Prime Minister David Cameron himself condemned “the appalling dodgy dealings with Libya under the last [British] government.”
In our own town of Englewood, New Jersey, where the Libyans own an official residence immediately next door to me and which has been tax-exempt for nearly three decades, millions were spent to ready the derelict embassy for Gaddafi’s use in the summer and autumn of 2009, just months after the tyrant accorded Megrahi a hero’s welcome in Tripoli. Were permits granted too readily to allow the construction at such a hasty pace?
I have a video of the time I confronted the contractors working on Gaddafi’s home, after they cut down my trees and removed my fence. City official Peter Abballe, who was in charge of Englewood’s Department of Building and Code Enforcement and was responsible for enforcing construction codes and inspecting residential and commercial properties and issuing certificates of occupancy, was present in the contractor’s trailer inside the Libyan compound. He intervenes and says the camera should be turned off. Abballe was later arrested in an FBI investigation on charges of official corruption, having accepted payments in another case, and was recently sentenced. Will the City of Englewood finally do an official investigation into its 2009 dealings with the Libyans?
The City of Englewood has played a particularly ignominious role in the Libyan affair. Even after I hosted a rally on my front lawn to ban Kaddafi from taking up residence in the home next door to me, and even after Gaddafi began bombing his citizens in February, 2011, Englewood made absolutely no effort whatsoever to compel the Libyans to pay property taxes, thereby forcing the residents of Englewood to be complicit in supporting the evil regime by paying for things like the Libyan’s police protection and trash removal with local tax dollars. While previous mayor Michael Wildes joined me as an enthusiastic partner in opposing Gaddafi, his successor, Mayor Frank Huttle, broke repeated promises to challenge the Libyans and did nothing.
But while Mayor Huttle, who is now running for a second term unopposed, did not lift a finger against the Libyans, he did find cause, in the application my organization made to establish a Synagogue on my property in Englewood, to dismiss our right to be heard before Englewood’s Planning Board, which he chairs and whose members he appoints. Two days before our hearing this past January, our attorney received a bizarre phone call from Michael Kates–the Planning Board attorney hand-picked by Mayor Huttle–who told him that there would likely be a challenge to the jurisdiction of our application from a member of the board. He would give no further details of these behind-the-scenes maneuvers. Our attorney protested vigorously. The law was on our side. But sure enough, on the night of the hearing–one that consumed thousands of dollars in preparation–Kates found a technicality so obtuse that arguably only he and our attorney could even understand it. Over a thirty-five year period, no Englewood attorney could find a single technicality upon which to force Gaddafi to pay his taxes. But in a unanimous vote, our Synagogue was denied even the right to be heard. Our stunned attorney told a local newspaper that the decision was political and, “Where we go from here, I’m not sure.” You can watch the hearing, taped by one our congregants, on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeKv-jqF5UU&feature=youtu.be).
But one of the most egregious offenders in the matter of the Libyans was Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ), who originally joined me on my front lawn in strongly opposing Gaddafi’s stay in Englewood but later, when Gaddafi’s confidant and UN Ambassador, Mohamed Shalgham, moved in to the property, gave me and the Libyan’s other neighbors in his district the appalling public advice, via the New Jersey Jewish Standard, “I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.” That a United States Congressman would advocate to his constituents that they maintain friendly relations with the personal representative of a murderer who blows up airlines and American soldiers in discothèques is outrageous enough. What made it worse was a January 4th, 2010 press release in which Rothman spent three full pages attacking me and defending the “rights” of the Libyan Ambassador to reside next door to me. Rothman based his opinion on agreements between the Libyans and the State department in 1982–agreements brokered by none other than… Steve Rothman.
Was Rothman seriously suggesting that I had to abide by a 27-year-old deal that was struck behind close doors and without the consent of the people of Englewood? Later, in March 2012, the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, would reveal that the Gaddafi regime had been running a secret program hiding weapons inside Libyan embassies around the world, thereby making Rothman’s deal something that endangered the residents of Englewood in general, and my family in particular, albeit unwittingly.
Did Rothman seriously believe that the honest, hard-working residents of this city, who came out so forcefully to oppose Gaddafi in September 2009, wanted to see his Ambassador move in with his Libyan security force and intelligence personnel? What was his purpose in defending the right of an envoy of a terror-sponsoring government to live in our midst, spending millions of dollars on his home while refusing for more than a quarter of a century to pay even one dollar in taxes, even though he already had a tax-exempt UN residence in Manhattan?
Shalgham was the same Ambassador who disgraced himself before the UN Security Council by bringing in a slide show in 2009 that purported to show Israeli soldiers mutilating Palestinian civilians. He ran a UN mission that, in the same year, trivialized the Holocaust and created a grotesque blood libel against Israel by comparing Gaza to a concentration camp. And he remained Gaddafi’s Ambassador even when, in October 2009, his madman master said that the Palestinians should be given nuclear weapons.
It was when Congressman Rothman defended the rights of Kaddafi’s personal envoy to live peacefully and tax-free next to me that I first thought of running against him, as the press reported at the time (http://www.jta.org/news/article/2009/12/30/1009965/op-ed-gadhafi-back-in-my-backyard). Aside from a Rabbi having to suffer the Libyan killers living as neighbors, Rothman also seemed oblivious to the fact that the Libyan property abuts one of New Jersey’s leading Jewish day schools, Moriah. Why would he push his 1982 agreement with the Libyans on hundreds of unsuspecting Jewish children from our neighborhood?
To be sure, the Libyan regime has since thankfully changed. Gaddafi met summary justice, Megrahi is dead, and the new regime says it is committed to democratic government. But that does not change the painful story of one of the most notorious terror attacks of modern times and the people who released its perpetrator or gave his government and terrorist masterminds a pass.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international bestselling author of 27 books including his acclaimed new bestseller Kosher Jesus. He is running for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
Written in memory of Machla Dabakarov, the mother of Rabbi Shmuley’s close friend, who recently passed away.