Libyan mission sparks controversy
I don’t know if one can be an elected official and an effective rabbi at same time,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told The Jewish Standard last week after JTA ran a news item that he is considering running for public office. “I would prefer to be full-time rabbi.”
Boteach, a columnist for this paper, nevertheless left open the possibility that he would seek office if certain issues could not otherwise be resolved.
In an interview with the Standard on Dec. 31, the day the item appeared, the rabbi said, “I’ll consider a run if that’s what it takes to highlight the issues and bring about the desired result.” But he declined to say the position he would seek.
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“The U.S. should be a terror-free state,” said Boteach, whose Englewood home lies next to that of Libyan ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham. “Let him stay near the U.N.”
The house remained a major sticking point for Boteach into the new year (see his op-ed, page 17), but not the only one.
Boteach said that, if necessary, he would seek political office to address “two core issues in our community, the presence of a representative of a terror government and exorbitant local taxes, not one dollar of which can go to parochial education.”
“I don’t want to run and prefer not to run,” he said. However, he strongly criticized the leadership of the Englewood town council, which, he said, “has not made any effort to unseat the Libyan mission or get them to pay taxes as a single family home.”
“Englewood is governed by inertia,” said the rabbi, noting that the town’s mayor, Michael Wildes, had sent an e-mail to the city council president and city clerk naming Boteach to fill an upcoming slot on the Board of Adjustment.
“By city charter, my appointment should have been discussed in the next council meeting and it was utterly ignored,” he said in a subsequent e-mail to this newspaper. “It is actions like these that make the residents of Englewood feel utterly impotent, and my interest in [serving] would have been, among other things, to strongly enhance our voice in the fight against the Libyan mission.”
“One letter from the State Department can limit him to Manhattan,” said Boteach of the Libyan ambassador. “Englewood can also sue Libya to recoup $10 million in property taxes.”
Rep. Steven Rothman has disputed Boteach’s analysis, noting that the agreement between the State Department and the Libyan embassy, including the matter of taxation, was in effect years before Boteach moved into his own home. (See Rothman’s op-ed, page 16.)
According to the congressman and former Englewood mayor, the town litigated up to the Supreme Court for the right to tax the Libyan residence. It was held, however, that the right of international reciprocity must prevail in this case. Just as the United States has diplomatic residences in other countries that do not pay taxes, so too, the court held, the Englewood residence, used for diplomatic purposes, should not be taxed.
Rothman noted, however, that the issue is distinct from that of the threatened visit to the town by Libyan head of state Muammar Kaddafi, which Rothman and others successfully opposed several months ago.
Asked for a comment by Jewish Standard assistant editor Josh Lipowsky, the Libyan mission responded on Dec. 18 that “His Excellency, the Permanent representative of Libya, is moving to live in a property owned by Libya. It is indeed absurd to ask anyone, Why are you moving to live in your own house? Using this preposterous logic, we can ask you, Why do you live your own house and for how long?”