Gaddafi invites Libya's former Jews to dialogue

Embattled Libyan leader sends letter to representatives of Libyan Jewish Diaspora in apparent bid to bolster international image.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
June 9, 2011 03:41
2 minute read.
Gaddafi gives live address on Libyan state TV

Gaddafi State TV 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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In an apparent bid to improve its international image, the government of embattled dictator Muammar Gaddafi recently invited representatives of the Libyan Jewish Diaspora to visit the country and recognized them as “a component of Libyan society,” The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Libyan authorities faxed a letter to Raphael Luzon, the chairman of Jews of Libya UK, on May 29 asking him and other Libyan Jewish leaders to take part in dialogue regarding the future of the country torn by a civil war between Gaddafi loyalists and rebels.

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“We are pleased to extend an invitation to you personally and through you to the number of personalities of Libyan Jews in Europe and North America working in various fields to visit Libya at the earliest possible opportunity and to join the tribes of which you are part of it, and you should be represented as part of the components of the Libyan society,” the letter signed by tribal leader and Gaddafi loyalist Ali Mohamed Salem al- Ahwal said. “We hope that you accept our invitation to join this institution and to be represented through all tribes and clans and dignitaries of the Libyan Jews in this conference, which has the full legitimacy in Libya.”

Before receiving the letter, Luzon spoke on the phone with Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Khaim, who said the invitation came directly from Gaddafi.

On Wednesday, Luzon said he rejected Gaddafi’s offer after consulting with other members of the World Organization of Jews of Libya.

“I represent a lot of people and I cannot bet on a losing horse,” Luzon said. “I am scared the people in Tripoli will present us to the international press and come out with a press release that we support them.”



The invitation was extended to Jews of Libyan descent in Europe and North America, but not to those in Israel, where about 100,000 Jews of Libyan descent live.

The invitation marks a significant change in the regime’s longtime policy toward the Libyan Jewish Diaspora. After Gaddafi came to power in 1969 all Jewish property was confiscated and most of the few Jews still living in the country left. During his rule, Libyan Jews were prohibited from visiting their country of birth with few exceptions and their rights were ignored.

The ancient Jewish cemetery in Tripoli, for instance, was razed by authorities to make way for a highway. Its tombstones and human remains were dumped into the sea.

In recent years, Gaddafi has flirted with the idea of compensating Jews of Libyan descent. Several times negotiations with Libyan Jews were initiated but none resulted in an agreement.

Meanwhile, Luzon said he expects to receive a similar invitation from rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi’s former justice minister, who is the head of the rebel government in eastern Libya.

“I have a close relationship with the leaders of the revolution [in Benghazi],” he said.

“Apparently, they are going to do the same thing.”

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