Following protests, Gaddafi to avoid NJ Jewish neighborhood

Libyan leader wanted to camp out in Englewood after he was denied request to pitch tent in Central Park.

gaddafi house US 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaddafi house US 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Bowing to pressure from US lawmakers and members of New Jersey's Jewish community, Libyan officials said Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi has scrapped plans to pitch his tent in that state during a visit to America next month. Gaddafi, who is expected to attend the UN General Assembly, had planned to camp out in a Jewish neighborhood in Englewood, New Jersey, after New York City officials said he could not pitch his tent in Central Park. In 1982, the Libyan government purchased a 930 square-meter mansion in Englewood, and it recently began a massive renovation project there in advance of Gaddafi's visit. But even after Libyan officials told a New Jersey congressman that Gaddafi would not stay in New Jersey, several hundred members of the community planned to rally on Sunday, not only against the near-visit but against the presence of the Libyan mansion in their midst. "I still live right next door to Libyan territory. We want them to leave our neighborhood," Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told The Jerusalem Post. He said unless the US imposes a restrictive visa on Gaddafi, the Libyan president could choose to stay in Englewood next year. Though the mansion had been largely abandoned for years, Boteach speculated that after paying for expensive renovations, Libyan officials would use the property more often. "Will it be a retreat for Libyan security officials? Will it be a safe house?" he asked. Those who opposed the visit said they were offended by the "hero's welcome" recently extended to the man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing over Scotland. Officials at the Libyan Embassy in New York did not return calls seeking comment. But in an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, Saif Al-Islam El-Qaddafi denied reports of a "hero's welcome" for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi. While defending Megrahi's innocence, he wrote that no Libyan officials were present when the plane landed, and state and foreign news media were barred from the event. "There was not in fact any official reception for the return of Mr. Megrahi," he wrote. "The strong reactions to these misperceptions must not be allowed to impair the improvements in a mutually beneficial relationship between Libya and the West." Still, news that Gaddafi was planning to stay in Englewood riled neighbors and the town's mayor, Michael Wildes, who told the Post, "We don't want a terrorist to live with us." Michael Granoff, an Englewood resident whose daughter attends the Moriah School, located adjacent to the Libyan property, said he found the prospect of Gaddafi being in such close proximity to the school "nauseating" and "beyond comprehension." "The notion of Muammar Gaddafi sleeping in a tent adjacent to where my daughter goes to kindergarten is completely and utterly offensive," he said. Local lawmakers, including Gov. Jon Corzine, who was expected to speak at the rally on Sunday, also joined the chorus of voices opposing the Libyan leader's visit. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said the Libyan leader "wasn't welcome" in the state, and he requested that travel restrictions limit Gaddafi to the area around the United Nations. On Friday, Libyan officials informed Rep. Steve Rothman, a Democrat of New Jersey, that Qaddafi would not be staying in Englewood, according to the congressman's office. In a statement, Rothman said he was "very pleased" that the Libyan president "will apparently not be coming to Englewood. His appearance would have presented unnecessary safety and security issues for the residents of Englewood and the Libyan diplomats."