When I led public protests in the summer of 2009 against the arrival of Moammar Gadhafi to Englewood, New Jersey, that ultimately pushed him out of our town, friends called me concerned that I would be found in a shallow ditch somewhere, a victim of Gadhafi’s global terror apparatus. None of us could possibly have known or believed that just 27 months later Gadhafi himself would be found hiding in a ditch in Libya and executed by his own people.
The people of Libya showed incredible courage in standing up to, and ultimately defeating, the terrible tyrant, and President Obama deserves to be applauded for America’s indispensable role in dispending with Gadhafi. Too bad that our local politicians here in Englewood, nearly all of whom are Democrats, did not follow the leader of the party’s example in taking related action against the Libyans living tax-free here in Englewood for nearly thirty years. Rarely in the field of peaceful protest has one municipality done so little to object to the presence of murderers in its midst.
Ever since Moammar Gadhafi made known his desire to take up residence and pitch a tent at the Libyan Embassy in our town, our local government has barely lifted a finger to make life uncomfortable for the terrorist government. It was the residents, rather than the government, that cared enough to protest Gadhafi’s arrival in the memorable summer of 2009. I remember having to go to City Hall, a few weeks into our fight against the tyrant’s impending arrival, and pressure the city manager and council to join the outraged citizens in taking some sort of action to stop the monster from defiling our town. That pressure led the city to go to court to stop the Libyans from renovating their mansion to make it fit for a king and, having found building code violations, a judge issued a stop-work order which was instrumental in purging our city of the mad dog of the Middle East.
And after that… nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our city threw in the towel and capitulated to the Libyans utterly. The Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, Muhammad Shalgham, who was Gadhafi’s right hand man and Foreign Minister for eight years, was allowed to become my next-door neighbor. The residents of Englewood were forced into the immorality of having to literally support the government of Libya financially by paying for the Libyan mission’s police protection and basic city-provided services. And amid the herculean pressure brought by me and a few other residents to compel the city to challenge the Libyan’s tax-exemption, the city refused to take the Libyans to court ever since an original suit was filed by the Libyans in 1982, granting them immunity. Of course, this was well before Gadhafi began blowing up airliners, murdering American servicemen in Europe, and funding international terror throughout the globe. Yet, the city could not be bothered in thirty years to even bring a lawsuit against these murderers to at least pay for the removal of their own garbage, even though the Libyan Ambassador already has one tax-exempt residence in Manhattan, near the UN.
But Lord help you if you are an Englewood resident who is late or delinquent on property taxes. The city will give you up to twelve months to catch up, all while you accrue exorbitant interest, and will then move rapidly against its own citizens to sell the debt to outside investors who can then charge a further 18 percent interest against the debt and put your home into foreclosure after twelve months of non-payment.
Now that Gadhafi is dead the city has lost the opportunity to inspire other municipalities throughout America where terror-sponsoring governments buy mansions to house their Ambassadors and heads of state, expecting American tax-payers to fund their presence.
There are two transgressions in life, since of commission and sins of omission; the bad things we do and the good things we fail to do. Of the two, the latter is by far the more severe. It is not the man who cheats on his wife who will destroy his marriage, even though that is of course a very grave sin. Rather, it is the man who has failed to show his wife any affection who will never be forgiven for an indiscretion by a wife who has fallen out of love with him due to his neglect.
Englewood has sins that are, unfortunately, common to many other New Jersey municipalities: sky-high taxes amid poor city services, an inadequate educational system that spends a fortune on students yet has an unacceptably high failure rate, and, worst of all, corruption, with its Construction Code Head recently pleading guilty to accepting bribes in an FBI sting operation. But its sin of omission in passively allowing a terrorist government to live in its midst is an international embarrassment that has humiliated every single one of our elected officials and bureaucrats.
Gadhafi was killed, ironically, on the most joyous day of the Hebrew Calendar, Shmini Atzeret. Because it is a Jewish holy day, I was offline and unavailable by phone, email, or any other electronic media for three days. But I knew in my bones that the media would be asking what would now become of Gadhafi’s New Jersey mansion. Sure enough, when the festival was over on Saturday night, I saw the Wall Street Journal’s major piece highlighting Gadhafi’s home in New Jersey. My voicemail and email mailboxes were full of press inquiries asking whether I will continue my campaign against the Libyan mission. You’re damned straight. The mission must be sold and the money returned to its rightful owners, the Libyan people, who need every penny to rebuild their broken country. The millions that Gadhafi poured into the home so that he and his Ambassador can live in luxury while his own people live in squalor must be put to building basic housing for the brave citizens of Libya who overthrew their tyrannical government.
But left out of any of this is the government of the City of Englewood who continue, as before, innocent bystanders to the last, embarrassed by their own inaction, even as the world celebrates the fall of a tyrant.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” (Wiley) and will shortly publish “Kosher Jesus” (Gefen). He is in the midst of creating the Global Institute for Values Education (GIVE). Follow him on his website www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.