Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, best known as the author of Kosher Sex, lashed out on Tuesday at a US congressman who was quoted as saying residents of Englewood, New Jersey, should be "good neighbors" to a Libyan diplomat planning to move to the New York City suburb.
Boteach accused Rep. Steve Rothman of brokering a closed-door deal for Libya to buy a mansion in Englewood in 1982.
Coming a day after the Democratic congressman issued his own press release criticizing Boteach, the rabbi fought back, asking: "Will he really defend 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?"
The flap - between two men who fought to prevent Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi from staying at the Englewood mansion last year - came amid news that Libya's UN representative, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, would be moving to the town.
In an interview with the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Rothman said: "The George W. Bush administration reestablished diplomatic relations with the Libyan government and removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism... Up until this moment the Englewood police chief has advised me that he sees no problem in allowing the ambassador and his wife and children to occupy the residence. And so, I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors."
Boteach, reeling from what he considered a failure on the part of New Jersey lawmakers to stop the diplomat from moving in, subsequently announced late last month that he would consider running for public office.
"I wish to remain a rabbi who informs and influences politics from the outside. But if Gaddafi'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," he wrote in an op-ed published on December 30 by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Boteach, who lives next door to the Libyan mansion, told The Jerusalem Post he has not contemplated running for any specific office.
"I have no desire to run for public office unless I feel forced to by inaction by my elected representatives," he said.
On Monday, Rothman responded to Boteach's op-ed and recent criticism in a lengthy press release, saying the rabbi had "misrepresented" the situation in Englewood. Indeed, he pointed out, the Libyan government owned the property for 17 years before Boteach and his family moved in next door.
Rothman, who was mayor of Englewood from 1983 to 1989, said he worked to prevent the Libyans from moving in as early as 1982, when as mayor-elect he learned that Libya had purchased the property. Ultimately, the US and Libya reached an informal understanding that would prevent Gaddafi from staying there but allow Libya's UN ambassador to make personal use of the home.
Last summer, when Gaddafi seemed bound for New Jersey during the UN General Assembly session, Rothman resumed the fight, he wrote.
"Over the course of the next six days and nights, I was able to persuade the US and Libyan governments to reaffirm" the earlier understanding. "That is why Gaddafi never set foot in Englewood in September 2009 when he came to New York City to address the UN General Assembly."
Boteach told the Post he was not trying to pick a fight with Rothman, but that he found the lawmaker's communiquÃ© "shocking."
"They should not be here, the issue is very simple," Boteach said of his Libyan neighbors. Of Libya's UN ambassador, he added: "He's Gaddafi's personal envoy... There's no way Libya should have sovereign territory in New Jersey."
In Tuesday's statement, Boteach explained that when he moved to Englewood, the Libyan property was all but abandoned.
"As everyone who resides in Englewood knows, the property was a derelict communal eyesore for years. Being vacant, no one feared it. But now that the Libyans have, over the last few months, deployed an army of workers to upgrade the property to palatial standards, tried to move Gaddafi in, and moved in its ambassador as a permanent resident, you bet we're concerned," he wrote.
He concluded: "Earth to congressman Rothman, you represent the concerned citizens of Englewood, not the oil-rich dictatorship of Libya."
In a statement, the Libyan mission said it was ridiculous to challenge the ambassador's decision to live on the property.
"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 in your own house and for how long?"