Gadhafi and the Jews


Now it can be told: For the last decade or so, the Jews had secret back channels to Muammar Gadhafi.

What led the pro-Israel community into a careful relationship with Gadhafi 10 years ago were considerations of U.S. national interests, Israel’s security needs and the claims of Libyan Jews.

After his overthrow by Libyan rebels and his killing last week, the conclusion among many pro-Israel figures in America is that it was worth it, despite the Libyan strongman’s erratic behavior and his ignoble downfall.

The reason: Gadhafi’s shift away from state terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks eliminated a funder and organizer of threats to Israeli and U.S. interests.

Gadhafi’s overtures to the pro-Israel community began in 2002, when a leader of the Libyan Jewish community in exile, David Gerbi, returned to Libya to bring an elderly aunt to Italy, where he and his family now live. His aunt, Rina Debach, is believed to be the last Jew to have lived in Libya.

Through interlocutors, Gerbi said, “Gadhafi asked me if I could help to normalize the relationship between Libya and the United States.”

Gadhafi’s motives were clear, according to Gerbi: Saddam Hussein was in the U.S. sights at the time, and Gadhafi, who already was tentatively reaching out to the West through Britain, did not want to be next on the list.

Gadhafi agreed to end his nascent weapons of mass destruction programs and to a payout in the billions of dollars to families of victims of the terrorist attack that brought down a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Gerbi, who still hopes to re-establish a Jewish presence in Libya, immediately launched a tour of the United States in hopes of rallying support for bringing Libya into the pro-Western fold. He met with pro-Israel groups and lawmakers.

“There were extensive discussions about what would be appropriate and not appropriate,” recalled Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group. In the end, “We didn’t want to stand in the way of Libyan Jews having the opportunity to visit.”

Especially notable was the fervor with which the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who then was the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, embraced the cause. Lantos, with the blessing of a George W. Bush administration seeking to contain radical Islamist influence, visited Libya five times.

“I am rational enough to recognize that we must accept ‘yes’ for an answer,” Lantos told the Forward newspaper in 2004 following his first visit. “Gadhafi’s record speaks for itself — it’s an abominable record — but the current actions also speak for themselves. He has now made a 180-degree turn.”

Steve Rosen, now a consultant to a number of groups on Middle East issues, was at the time the director of foreign policy for AIPAC. He said the pro-Israel community decided not to stand in the way of U.S. rapprochement with Libya because of the relief it would offer Israel.

Rosen and Alan Makovsky, a staffer for Lantos, were surprised when, around 2002 — the same time that Gerbi was making the case for Libya in New York and Washington — Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam sought them out at a conference on the Middle East in England.

“He kept finding ways to bring us into the dialogue,” Rosen recalled. “He considered us influential in Washington, because we were pro-Israel.”

Rosen took the younger Gadhafi’s case to the Israelis, who gave AIPAC a green light not to oppose Libya’s overtures — but they also counseled caution.

“Most of them raised an eyebrow, saying you can’t trust Gadhafi, but the idea of a rogue state becoming moderate appealed to them,” Rosen said.

That view seemingly was vindicated when Libya destroyed its weapons of mass destruction under U.S. supervision.

“Israel and its friends are nothing if not pragmatic,” Rosen said. “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.”

AIPAC would not comment on the affair. Keith Weissman, Rosen’s deputy at the time, confirmed the account, recalling his own trip to England, at Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s invitation, in 2003.

“The Israelis liked it, because there was one less guy with a lot of money to spend on bad things,” Weissman said.

Congress removed Libya from the 1990s Iran-Libya sanctions act, and Western oil companies returned to the country.

Most Jewish groups chose not to respond to invitations to visit Libya, noting that while Gadhafi had removed himself as a threat to others, he was still dangerous to his own people.

“Nobody was fooled, everybody knew what Gadhafi was,” said Hoenlein, who, like Rosen, had turned down invitations to visit Libya.

However, Gadhafi’s promises of restitution to Libya’s Jewish exiles — driven out two years before he took power in 1969 — came to naught.

Gerbi, a psychologist invited to Libya in 2007 to assist in Libyan hospitals, suddenly was thrown out of the country, and the items and money he had brought to refurbish synagogues was confiscated.

Much hope now rests on the provisional government that has replaced Gadhafi. Gerbi advocates caution. At the revolutionaries’ invitation, since May he has spent weeks on and off in Libya assisting its people overcome post-traumatic stress.

Yet at Rosh Hashanah, when Gerbi attempted to reopen a shuttered, neglected synagogue in Tripoli, he was met with a virulently anti-Semitic Facebook-organized campaign. Protesters outside the synagogue held up signs proclaiming what Gadhafi had once promised: no Jews in Libya.

UN rights office urges inquiry into Gadhafi death


The United Nations human rights office called on Friday for a full investigation into the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and voiced concerns that he may have been executed.

Images filmed on mobile phones before and after Gadhafi’s death showed him wounded and bloodied but clearly alive after his capture in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday, and then dead amidst a jostling crowd of anti-Gadhafi fighters.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what happened exactly. There seem to be four or five different versions of how he died,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters Television in an interview.

“If you take these two videos together, they are rather disturbing because you see someone who has been captured alive and then you see the same person dead.

“We are not in a position to say what has happened at this point but we feel that it is very important that this is clarified, that there is some sort of serious investigation into what happened and what caused his death,” he said.

Asked whether the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was concerned Gadhafi may have been executed while in captivity, Colville replied: “It has to be one possibility when you look at these two videos. So that’s something that an investigation needs to look into.”

Gadhafi’s body lay in an old meat store on Friday as arguments swirled over his burial and the circumstances of his death.

With a bullet wound visible through the familiar curly hair, the corpse shown to Reuters in Misrata bore other marks of the violent end to a violent life that was being broadcast to the world in snatches of grainy, gory cellphone video.

A television station based in Syria that supported Gadhafi said on Friday that the slain Libyan leader’s wife had asked for a U.N. investigation into his death.

Colville said it was is a fundamental principle of international law that people accused of serious crimes should be tried if possible. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants in June for Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and their intelligence chief for crimes against humanity.

“Summary executions are strictly illegal under any circumstances. It’s different if someone is killed in combat. There was a civil war taking place in Libya. So if the person died as part of combat, that is a different issue and that is normally acceptable under the circumstances,” he said.

“But if something else has happened, if someone is captured and then deliberately killed, then that is a very serious matter,” he said.

Libya’s interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said Gadhafi was killed in a “crossfire” while being brought to hospital after his capture. A doctor who examined Gadhafi’s body said he had been fatally wounded by a bullet in his intestines.

But a senior interim ruling National Transitional Council source told Reuters Gadhafi was killed by his captors: “While he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him,” the source said. “He might have been resisting.”

In one of the videos that emerged, Gadhafi is hauled by his hair from the hood of a truck. Someone shouts: “Keep him alive!”

Gadhafi disappears from view and shots ring out.

An international commission of inquiry, launched by the U.N. Human Rights Council, is already investigating killings, torture and other crimes in Libya.

Colville said he expected that the team, now headed by former ICC President Philippe Kirsch, would look into the circumstances of Gadhafi’s death and make recommendations about the need for either a full national or international probe.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Roger Atwood

International Criminal Court: Gadhafi planned civilian killings


The International Criminal Court has evidence Muammar Gadhafi’s government planned to put down protests by killing civilians before the uprising in Libya broke out, the ICC’s prosecutor said on Tuesday.

The peaceful protests that erupted on Feb. 15 descended into civil war as Gadhafi’s forces first fired on demonstrators, then violently put down the uprisings that followed in the west, leaving the east and the third city of Misrata in rebel hands.

NATO-led air power is now holding the balance in Libya, preventing Gadhafi’s forces overrunning the seven-week old revolt, but unable for now to hand the rebels outright victory.

Read more at Haaretz.com.