JERUSALEM, May 19, 2010 — -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's plan to take his son, Zach, to Jerusalem's famous Western Wall for his Jewish coming-of-age ritual appeared to have run into serious trouble.
Two notorious, right-wing Jewish activists got wind of the bar mitzvah trip, due to take place next week, and warned Emanuel they would "blow up" the celebration. They accuse Emanuel of being behind President Obama's tough stance against Jewish settlements in occupied territory.
Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel wrote to Emanual: "We promise to accompany your son's bar mitzvah events in Israel, we will make sure to receive you as you deserve to be received ... with catcalls and disgust."
The Western Wall is Judaism's holiest site and a popular place for bar mitzvahs, which mark a boy's 13th birthday.
Emanuel's office made contact with religious authorities in January to discuss coordinating the event, according to an unnamed Israeli official speaking to the Maariv newspaper this week. "But since then, they have not contacted us again, and coordinating the visit of a figure in such a scale requires at least a month of advance preparation," he said.
Another possible problem with Emanuel's plan may be that the site sits beyond the historic Green Line, which used to separate Israel from Jordanian-controlled territory until the Six Day War of 1967. Since then, Israel has controlled all of the Old City of Jerusalem and its religious sites, but U.S. policy still classifies the area as "occupied territory" and officials are discouraged from spending time there other than for diplomatic duty and work assignments.
It is not known where the Emanuels now plan to hold the event. The Jerusalem Post contacted Emanuel's father, Benjamin, himself born in Jerusalem, but he told the paper he "cannot make any statement."
Opponents Invite Zach Emanuel to Explore
The anger of Israel's right-wing extremists does not apparently extend to Emanuel's son.
Ben Gvir and Marzel have reportedly offered to take the teenager "on a day of fun without his father, in which we will hold a jeep tour in the various heritage sites of the Jewish people such as the Western Wall, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Joseph's Tomb. We can only hope he will return to his father and teach him a few things about the Jewish peoples' heritage."