Gaddafi’s New Jersey mansion

Gaddafi’s  Gaddafi
New Jersey mansion
An aerial view of the Libyan-owned mansion known as Thunder Rock in Englewood, New Jersey. (Photos: Matthew Petti/Jordan News)
Englewood is the only place in the world where Muammar Gaddafi, a rabbi, and Donald Trump could be sucked into a local landscaping dispute.اضافة اعلان

The posh New Jersey suburb hosts many of New York’s rich and famous. While it is a short drive away from downtown Manhattan, the town itself is quiet and leafy, a convenient retreat for those who enjoy both city amenities and suburban comfort.

That’s why Gaddafi’s government purchased a mansion there for $1 million in 1982. The estate known as Thunder Rock became the home of the Libyan ambassador to the UN, who only had to commute half an hour to the UN headquarters.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gestures during his address before the UN General Assembly, on September 23, 2009. (Photo: NYTimes)

At the time of the purchase, the Libyan government assured authorities that Gaddafi himself would not stay in the mansion, former Englewood mayor Steven Rothman told the Jewish Standard in 2010. But when Gaddafi came to New York to address the UN General Assembly in 2009, it was rumored that he would stay at Thunder Rock.

The late Libyan strongman was quite a character. He based his rule around a rambling manifesto called the Green Book and traveled in a Bedouin-style caravan with a retinue of all-female bodyguards. Gaddafi’s public appearances were marked by bizarre hijinks, like calling for the abolition of Switzerland and declaring himself “king of kings of Africa.”

Gaddafi also had quite a record of violence. He allegedly blew up Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, executed hundreds of prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in 1996, and attempted to crush protests in 2011, leading to a civil war that ended in his ouster.

“I was afraid Gaddafi was going to motorcade up Palisade Avenue and we were going to have armed conflict in Englewood,” Rothman later told CNN.

The Libyan strongman would have found himself among other colorful personalities in Englewood and neighboring Englewood Cliffs, from beloved celebrities to infamous Mafia bosses.

Thunder Rock is across the street from the Dwight-Englewood School, a fancy private academy whose graduates include celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, actress Brooke Shields, and former secretary of state George Schultz. Mehmet Öz, the Turkish-American celebrity doctor known professionally as Dr Oz, who currently running for US Senate, also sent his children there.

For more than a dozen years, the Libyan mission’s next-door neighbor was the Jewish preacher Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

The rabbi is famous for a book about relationships and marriage titled Kosher Sex. He is also a hawkish pro-Israel activist who counts both Democratic senators and Trump administration officials among his friends.

That’s quite an ironic neighbor for the Libyan government, which has taken a staunchly pro-Palestine line.

But the issue that finally ignited a public fight between Boteach and the Libyans was not the Palestinian cause. It was a landscaping dispute.

In the summer of 2009, Gaddafi was denied permission to pitch his tent in New York’s Central Park. Suddenly, dozens of workers showed up at Thunder Rock with heavy machinery, sparking rumors that the Libyan leader was coming to Englewood.

“Libyan construction workers pulled out my fence and cut down my trees without so much as informing me, let alone asking me,” Shmuley complained in a furious op-ed for the Jerusalem Post.

“I speculated that they cut down my trees so that they could spy on my house for security purposes. Well, they should know they have nothing physically to fear from me. I live by a religion that has forever established the infinite value of every human life,” he continued. “But if they don’t restore my trees and fence to what they were, immediately, I will sue them. At least then Libyan money will go toward peaceful projects like planting trees rather than blowing up planes. Yes, we are mad as well (sic) and we won’t take it anymore.”

A few days later, Shmuley publicly offered to let Gaddafi stay at his own house in exchange for “a declaration of friendship for ... Israel and a call to his fellow Arab leaders to renounce any hostility toward (Israel).”

Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes also denounced the rumored Gaddafi visit, and local officials issued a stop-work order for the construction, claiming that it violated environmental regulations. But because the property was a diplomatic mission, the municipality could not actually enforce any penalty against the Libyans.

Gaddafi never came to Englewood. The way Boteach often portrays it, his public campaigning forced the Libyan ruler to stay away. However, the US Department of State issued a statement at the time claiming that Thunder Rock was “not available” for Gaddafi to use due to “prior arrangements”.

Gaddafi’s entourage ended up renting a much bigger estate in Westchester County, across the Hudson River from Englewood. (Hillary Clinton lives in the same county.) News crews gawked as workers unfurled a huge tent decorated with camels and palm trees. Just as in Englewood, local authorities ordered the Libyan delegation to stop the construction work.

Authorities also appealed to the owner of the property: real estate mogul Donald J. Trump.

Implying that he had been tricked about his new tenant’s identity, Trump asked the Libyans to leave. The tent was packed up and Gaddafi stayed in New York City.

The Libyan ruler was so annoyed by his treatment during the UN visit that he caused a nuclear scare, purposely leaving barrels of high-enriched uranium on a runway with “shoddy” security until the US secretary of state sent him a personal message, according to The Guardian.

He would never again visit the UN, as he was tortured to death by rebels two years later.

When he entered politics, Trump used his brush with Gaddafi as an example of his business prowess.

“I’ve dealt with everybody. I dealt with Gaddafi,” he told Fox News in 2011. “I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn’t let him use the land.”

Trump called the incident “sort of a big joke” during his 2016 run, telling CBS News that he was the “only one” who “made a lot of money with Gaddafi”.

Boteach also used the brush with Gaddafi to bolster his own political career, running for Congress as a Republican in 2012. In numerous statements, the rabbi cited the tree incident as his inspiration for entering politics, and accused Democrats of being soft on Gaddafi.

Boteach lost in a landslide. Democratic candidate Steve Pascrell won with 74 percent of the vote.

Thunder Rock still belongs to the Libyan diplomatic mission. But Gaddafi’s green banner is no longer there. In its place flies the revolutionary tricolor flag.

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