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 el-Islam Khaddafi’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 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 Khaddafi had removed himself as a threat to others, he was still dangerous to his own people.
“Nobody was fooled, everybody knew what Khaddafi was,” said Hoenlein, who like Rosen had turned down invitations to visit Libya.
Yet a few of Libya’s new Jewish-American interlocutors didn’t stop at merely not standing in the way of normalization; they seemed to embrace the Khaddafi regime. Lantos became a strong advocate for normalization, setting up a U.S.-Libya student exchange.
Jack Rosen, then the chairman of the American Jewish Congress, met in 2007 with Khaddafi and counseled greater outreach.
“He represents a model of a leader who chose to take a risk in talking to the West, and we need to reinforce the path he chose,” Rosen told the Forward newspaper. Rosen did not return requests for comment for this story.
Such hopes were soon dashed by Khaddafi. He grew closer with the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, dabbling in the internal affairs of other African countries. In 2009 he delivered a long, bizarre rant at the UN General Assembly. He pursued a weird one-sided courtship with Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, which she once said gave her the chills.
His promises of restitution to Libya’s Jewish exiles – driven out two years before Khaddafi 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 Khaddafi. 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 on 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 Khaddafi had once promised: no Jews in Libya.
Gerbi left at the transitional government’s behest but says he will go back, albeit with a more skeptical eye.