Anyone who has ever been delinquent on Englewood property taxes is aware of how determinedly the city will move to sell the tax to predatory investors who can charge nearly 20 percent interest for a year and then move to foreclose and evict you from your home. Even in this time of economic turmoil when many residents are struggling to afford some of the highest taxes in the entire nation, no leniency whatsoever is shown. The city claims it cannot. It says it is bound by state statute.
That is, unless you’re a terrorist government, in which case the rules might be bent just a little.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Englewood City Council actually voted on whether to take nearly a million dollars of back taxes owed by the Libyan Mission in Englewood – which accumulated from 1985 to 1998 – off its books. For now, due to a tie-breaking vote courageously cast by Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle, the debt has not been canceled, pending a meeting of the full council which the Mayor has said will take place imminently and to which, presumably, the public will be invited.
An auditor had recommended the Libya debt be cancelled due to an inability to collect on the debt. But in that case, would the council vote to cancel the debt of its many citizens whose assets have been pulverized in this recession and from whom the city has no reasonable expectation of being able to collect, either? Or is it only the Libyans who get this preferential treatment?
Here are the simple facts. Back in the mid-1980’s Englewood tried to collect taxes from the Libyan mansion, arguing, correctly, that the residence deserves no diplomatic exemption as it is not a primary residence and is used only as an occasional retreat. Having lost an appeal in 1985, the city continued to allow the taxes to accrue pending further appeal.
And here is where incredulity sets in. On April 5, 1986, Libyan agents bombed the “La Belle” nightclub in West Berlin, a venue frequented by American soldiers, killing three people and injuring around 230 people, including 79 American servicemen. As this outrage came in the wake of other Kaddafi-sponsored terrorist attacks, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya, dropping 60 tons of munitions on military and government targets on April 15, 1986. So illegitimate did the American government find Kaddafi’s regime that it expressly sought to kill Kaddafi outright.
Amazingly, even with the Federal government targeting Libya as a murderous regime that needed to be militarily decapitated, the city of Englewood did not go back to court to challenge the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling of 1985. Even after Kaddafi blew up Pan Am 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 270 people, including approximately 30 New Jersey residents, the City of Englewood allowed him to maintain his residence in Englewood at tax-payer expense, forcing its citizens to be complicit in the evil – however tangentially – of keeping a murderer in power. Even after Kaddafi tried to personally take up residence at the Mission in September, 2009, provoking world outrage and a concerted effort on the part of Englewood’s citizens to keep him out, the city still never challenged the tax-exemption of one of the bloodiest regimes in the world. Finally, in an omission that still beggars belief, even when Kaddafi began to bomb and slaughter his own citizens in February, 2011, horrifying the entire world with his brutality, the officials of the City of Englewood, even as they engage in countless lawsuits over taxes with their own citizens, could not bring themselves to sue Kaddafi.
The mere symbolism of Englewood forgiving nearly a million dollars in Kaddafi debt – especially at a time when so many of its own citizens have lost their jobs and are being foreclosed on by investors to whom the city sells the debt – is morally abhorrent.
Englewood residents are not asking for any kind of special treatment as they struggle under the enormous burden of paying for out-of-control municipal spending with exorbitant taxes. They know their city, amid many legal precedents that allow municipalities to negotiate delinquent taxes for those in hardship, has taken the unbending line of insisting on every last penny of both principal and interest. But all we ask is that we at least be treated at least as well terrorists.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach regularly features on Newsweek’s list of the ten most influential Rabbis in America and was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium. The best-selling author of 26 books, he has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” and will shortly publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.