JERUSALEM (JTA) — Activists heckled White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as he and his family toured the Old City of Jerusalem in honor of his son’s bar mitzvah.
Emanuel and his entourage visited the newly restored Huvra Synagogue on Thursday, May 27 amid shouts of “anti-Semite.”
When the family arrived at the Western Wall, Emanuel did not approach the wall but his son did, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Heavy security surrounded the family during its tour of Jerusalem, according to reports.
Activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has threatened to protest the bar mitzvah of Zach Emanuel, waited for the family Thursday morning at the Western Wall and was physically restrained by police during its visit, Ynet reported.
Ben-Gvir filed a complaint May 26 with the Jerusalem District Court for Administrative Affairs, charging that Emanuel’s plan to hold his son’s bar mitzvah May 27 at the Davidson Center, a tourist facility located in the archeological park near the Western Wall, is illegal since the center is not licensed to hold such events. The court gave Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the East Jerusalem Development Company, which owns the center, 24 hours to respond.
The court declined to issue an injunction on such events until a ruling is made, according to the Jerusalem Post. The bar mitzvah celebration reportedly is set for the evening of May 27.
Emanuel and his son met with Israeli President Shimon Peres on the afternoon of May 27, Zach Emanuel received a kiddush cup and a book of psalms with a personal inscription as a bar mitzvah present, according to the President’s Office.
Meanwhile, on May 26, the Israel military in coordination with the Foreign Ministry gave the family a tour of its bases in the north and south of Israel.
Emanuel met the same day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and invited him to meet with President Obama next week at the White House.
jerusalem | President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has been in Israel over the past week to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah — but what’s being called a private family vacation doesn’t seem like it has been all that relaxing.
On May 26, two days after being interviewed on Israeli TV while wearing shorts, he donned a suit and tie for a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The only news to come out of it: The Israeli prime minister accepted Rahm’s invitation to meet with Obama at the White House Tuesday, June 1, officials said.
Aside from that meeting and a May 27 get-together with President Shimon Peres, Emanuel has been doing his best to duck the spotlight. Many Israeli ultranationalists, who believe he is behind a U.S. demand to halt West Bank settlement construction, are upset that he’s even in the Jewish state. In fact, the possibility of protests may have caused Emanuel and his family to scuttle a rumored May 24 visit to the Western Wall.
Details of the bar mitzvah — for his son Zach and nephew Noah — were being kept under wraps, and there was speculation the family might have chosen a less public venue than the Western Wall. The ceremonies reportedly were scheduled for the end of this week, though no date was reported by Israeli media.
In addition, Emanuel was caught in a fleeting mini-scandal after the Israeli press reported that a non-kosher meal he and his family ate in Eilat was paid for by Israel’s Tourism Ministry. A spokesman for Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov quickly denied the report.
Emanuel came to Israel on May 21 for a 10-day trip with his family. The bar mitzvah ceremonies are to be conducted with the help of Emanuel’s rabbi in Virginia, Rabbi Jack Moline.
“We are having a great time in Israel, we are really enjoying ourselves and the people are excellent,” Emanuel, dressed in shorts, told Israel’s Channel 2 on May 24.
Earlier that day, in anticipation of a possible ceremony at the Western Wall, reporters, photographers and at least one would-be protester staked out the Old City, but Emanuel and his family did not appear. Rabbi Andrew Sacks, who conducts bar mitzvahs at the Robinson’s Arch area near the Wall, declined to comment about whether he was aware of details regarding the ceremony.
Israeli officials refused to comment on Emanuel’s trip since it is a private visit.
Baruch Marzel, a far-right activist, said earlier in the week he believed the bar mitzvah would be held at a Jerusalem hotel on Saturday, May 29, or perhaps two days before that. He also said he would attend and heckle Emanuel because he believes he is a traitor to the Jewish people.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a well-known extremist, said he was ready to protest May 24 had Emanuel and his son showed up at the Wall.
“We think this is a man who cannot be welcomed with respect and love,” Ben-Gvir said. “I don’t have a problem with his father or with his son, but he has proven that he is an enemy of the State of Israel.”
Some hard-line Israelis see Emanuel as the leader of the Obama administration’s push to stop construction in Israel’s West Bank settlements — an issue that has complicated Washington’s efforts to restart peace talks.
Emanuel’s father, Benjamin, was born in Jerusalem and was a member of the Irgun, one of the pre-state underground militant organizations fighting against British rule and usually associated with Israeli hard-liners.
Over the weekend, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported that an official from the Tourism Ministry paid for an Emanuel family meal at the non-kosher Boston restaurant May 21 in Eilat. The report said the Emanuels ate ceviche, calamari and other seafood.
Michael Ben-Ari, a member of Knesset from the National Union party, wrote to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein complaining about taxpayer funds being used for a non-kosher meal and asking him to send the bill to Emanuel’s home.
A spokesman for Israel’s Tourism Ministry said any outcry was unfounded. “We offered to help the Emanuels with their visit, but they said no,” he said. “Our representative did not eat with them. We bring thousands of people to Israel. Our official events are kosher, but when people are on their own we don’t pick at their plates.”
The Associated Press and the Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.