ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — Like many people these days, I am a busy man. But that did not stop me from taking off several weeks from my professional life to fight Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s plan to take up residence directly next door to me this past August and September during the U.N. General Assembly.
Together with my friend Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, and the support of the entire Englewood, N.J., community, we pushed Gadhafi out.
Sad to say, it was a pyrrhic victory.
Last month, with the cooperation of the U.S. State Department and our otherwise brilliant police force, as well as the silent acquiescence of our elected leaders, Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, stealthily moved in and took up residence as my immediate next door neighbor.
Every time my kids hit a baseball a bit too far, it goes into Libyan territory, onto the lawn of a man who last week disgraced the U.N. Security Council by showing a gruesome slide show featuring images of mutilated Palestinians with Israeli soldiers as the culprits. His condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza made no mention of the thousands of Hamas rockets that have been fired without provocation at Israeli children.
These are the same Libyans who in August welcomed a mass murderer — Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber — with great fanfare into Tripoli (Megrahi, who was released by Scottish authorities on humanitarian grounds because he only had three months to live, is miraculously still alive). They are the same Libyans whose leader called in October for the Palestinians to be given nuclear weapons. And they are the same Libyans who have shown our city their undisguised contempt by refusing for over a quarter of a century to pay even a single dollar in taxes.
They also cut down my fence and trees, which separate my property from theirs, without so much as a courtesy phone call, prompting me to sue them in federal court.
From the age of 16, all I ever wanted to be was a rabbi, someone who brings healing to broken lives and values to a needy culture. But for the first time in my life, I find myself contemplating a run for elective office.
The reason is simple: The Talmud declares, “In a place where there are no men stand up and become one.”
The fact that our elected officials allow the representative of a state that sponsors terrorism to live in our community is scandalous. When I read that my own congressman and friend, Steve Rothman, who fought so hard against Gadhafi, had told The New Jersey Jewish Standard that an agreement had been reached 25 years ago allowing the ambassador to take up residence and that therefore “I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors,” I was beside myself.
Is he seriously asking me to borrow a cup of sugar from a man whose government murdered American servicemen while they danced at a disco?
Without sounding paranoid, it’s time that we in the Jewish community face some facts. Across the globe it’s open season on Israel and the Jews. Why? Some would say that antipathy toward Jews is a law of physics. I disagree. It happens because we allow it.
We are a powerful global economic market and we must seriously consider boycotting the products of countries whose shameful behavior mistreats Jews. For example, the situation in Britain is out of control: There have been attempts to ban Israeli professors from academic conferences; a magistrate issued an arrest warrant against Israel’s former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and the government issued an advisory allowing retailers to label products originating from the West Bank as being produced in Israeli settlements or by Palestinians. A serious conversation about whether or not to vacation in Britain or buy its products should now occur.
Our community must make it clear to our Catholic brothers and sisters how upset we are that Pope Pius XII is being considered for sainthood. Calling a man a saint who lost his voice while 6 million Jews died will irreparably harm Catholic-Jewish relations.
Here in the United States we have had to contend with the Obama administration’s canard that Israeli settlements are a major obstacle to Middle East peace. And it’s more than a little disappointing that the Netanyahu government has endorsed this fraud by instituting a 10-month freeze on settlements, thereby unjustly identifying some of Israel’s most patriotic citizens as its most intransigent.
In the face of such developments, more committed Jews must begin considering running for office. Rather than merely relying on friends to represent us, we must also begin representing ourselves.
As for the Libyan ambassador moving to Englewood, I wish to remain a rabbi who informs and influences politics from the outside. But if Gadhafi’s envoy remains my next door neighbor with the tacit blessing of my elected leaders, I will do my best to unseat them by every legal means necessary.
(Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an author and host of the TLC program “Shalom in the Home,” is also the founder of This World: The Values Network.)