|Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says Libyans should sell the mission in Englewood and give money to victims’ kin. courtesy Shmuley boteach|
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Republican candidate for Congress for the Ninth District, used last week’s murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, as an opportunity to remind voters of his longstanding opposition to his next door neighbor in Englewood: the Libyan mission to the United Nations.
He held a press conference to denounce the mission.
“It is completely outrageous that a nation that murders American envoys is still allowed to exist in our community tax free, with all of its services being paid for by Englewood residents, forcing us to be complicit,” he said.
He offered a suggestion about how the Libyan government could atone for the first killing of an American ambassador in 30 years.
“If they want to demonstrate they regret the attack, that they’re heartbroken that an American ambassador was brutally murdered on their soil, they should sell the embassy. They could probably net $10 to $12 million. The first thing they should do is rebuild the consulate in Benghazi with the proceeds and then divide the rest to the victims of the slaughter,” he said.
Earlier, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., who is Boteach’s Democratic adversary in November’s election, released a statement condemning the murders.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, who were killed in a heinous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi,” the statement read. “I strongly condemn and deplore this senseless act of violence that took the lives of four brave Americans who were committed to creating a better future for the Libyan people. The United States must work with the Libyan authorities to bring justice to these victims and hold whoever is responsible to account. And the Libyan people must understand that in a democracy, violence is never acceptable, no matter how offensive the speech of others.”
On September 11, the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, was attacked by as many as 125 militants, reportedly armed with rocket propelled grenades. Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack.
The office of the Libyan prime minister condemned the attack, and Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, the president of the General National Congress of Libya, said: “We apologize to the United States, the people and to the whole world for what happened. We confirm that no-one will escape from punishment and questioning.” The next day, Libyans took to the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi to condemn the violence and apologize.
Boteach said that “Libya’s acts this week reinforce the huge mistake that is being made by our local government” in not going to court to remove the mission’s tax exemption. At one point, Boteach had considered running for city office over the issue.
In fact, Englewood originally tried to deny a tax exemption to the Libyan government, which acquired the property in 1982 as a country residence for the head of its mission to the United Nation. The State Department had conditioned Libya’s purchase of the estate on it being used only as a weekend retreat by the head of the Libyan mission to the United Nations and his family, and Englewood argued in court that this restriction meant the building was not a proper consulate and should not be exempt from taxes.
A federal court, however, ruled that according to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, a tax lien could not be enforced against the property.
Boteach argues that subsequent Libyan terrorist acts, such as the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 in 1988, mean the case should be revisited.
“Don’t you think the situation has changed?” he said. “Clearly everything about Libya changed dramatically when Gadaffi started blowing up airlines.”
However, at the time Libya acquired the property and won the court case the United States already had branded Muammar Gaddafi’s government a state supporter of terrorism, and the Reagan administration had barred the import of Libyan oil. The federal court made no reference to these issues in its ruling.
For Boteach, the Libyan tax exemption is galling in part because he has been seeking an exemption of his own, so far without success.
“We tried to create a shul on my property, because we’ve been davening there and having hundreds of people, thousands of people annually,” he said. “The city has done everything to obstruct our creation of a shul. They have canceled hearings that were scheduled. They are just burning through our money, hoping we will go away. But they have no problem with the Libyan embassy being tax free.
“Now that we see an American ambassador being killed, shouldn’t the city of Englewood look into it, so you can show the residents that you’re a moral government?” he asked rhetorically.