White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is in Israel with his family for the bar mitzvah of his son and a nephew in the coming days and traveled to Jordan over the weekend. Emanuel may also meet with Israeli officials, the White House said over the weekend.
"It is accurate to say he visited Jordan," White House Assistant Press Secretary Tommy Vietor told Politics Daily on Sunday. The White House would "definitely have more" information "about official portions of the trip" later in the week, Vietor also said. YDNet, an Israeli news outlet, said Emanuel may meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After landing in Israel, the Emanuel entourage went to Eilat, a popular resort area at the southernmost tip of the nation, on the Red Sea. From there, they headed to Jordan for a short sightseeing visit, Israeli news outlets reported.
Emanuel's brothers, Ezekiel, a White house health policy adviser, and Ari, a Hollywood super-agent, will also be in Israel for the bar mitzvah. Last week in Washington, Ezekiel Emanuel said the Israel trip was a "family affair." Emanuel's father, Benjamin, a physician who lives in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, was born in Israel.
The Israeli press has been reporting on the Zach Emanuel bar mitzvah and tracking Emanuel in Israel as part of long-running speculation about Emanuel's role in shaping the Obama administration's Middle East policy. Although the president has said he has an "unshakable commitment" to Israel's security, relations between Israel and the White House have at times been strained.
To address those tensions, the White House hosted two meetings with a small group of U.S. rabbis -- one in April, the other earlier this month -- with Emanuel and administration advisers who deal with Middle East policy and outreach to the U.S. Jewish community.
The Jerusalem Post called the meetings "part of a charm offensive" after Obama met with Netanyahu for more than three hours in March during a time the U.S. was critical of an Israeli decision to allow construction of new housing in disputed areas of East Jerusalem. When Vice President Biden visited Israel earlier this year, he was surprised by the announcement of construction of the new housing units.
George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, earlier in May launched the first round of "indirect" or "proximity" talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials -- steps toward direct negotiations to create a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with Israel. Mitchell shuttled between meetings with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu.
FOOTNOTE ONE: On Thursday, Obama and First Lady Michelle host the first ever White House reception to honor Jewish American Heritage Month. The White House said "the reception serves as an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the range and depth of Jewish American heritage and contributions to American culture, with guests representing the many walks of life that have helped weave the fabric of American history. Invitees include a range of community leaders and prominent Jewish Americans, from Olympians and professional athletes to members of Congress, business leaders, scholars, military veterans, and astronauts."
FOOTNOTE TWO: The White House said reports in some Israeli news outlets about Emanuel not paying for a meal at a restaurant in Eilat -- which caught the attention of one Knesset member -- were wrong. "He has paid for all of his own meals," Vietor said.