At noon last Tuesday, more than 24 hours ahead of the arrival of US President Joe Biden, the last regular paying guest left the iconic King David Hotel – and on Friday at 5 p.m. the first post-Biden guests checked in.
Up till 3 p.m. the King David was still a sterile zone, the hotel’s general manager Tamir Kobrin told The Jerusalem Post.
That’s what happens when an American president comes to town. His entourage, who usually far exceed the number of hotel rooms, take over the whole hotel, and anyone else with reservations is transferred to another luxury hotel in the area.
In Jerusalem, the Dan Hotel chain has two other hotels within easy walking distance of the King David, plus another on Mount Scopus.
In addition, the overflow of the POTUS entourage may be transferred to another nearby hotel, like the nearby Waldorf Astoria, which also featured in the four-nation video conference on Thursday.
Two and a half years on the job, Jerusalem-born Kobrin was not the least bit flustered when informed that he would be hosting the president of the United States. He had previously done so in hotels he managed in India, New York and Hong Kong.
But, he said in a Friday interview, it had been “a completely different ball game” in Israel because so much is attached to the security issue here.
In the other hotels, there had been no evacuation of regular guests. In Israel, however, the security details of a visiting head of state or government are handled by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in collaboration with security agents from the visitor’s country.
The agency takes every possible precaution. Staff at the hotel, reputed to be the safest in Israel, worked in close cooperation with both Israeli and American security agents.
Biden's stay in Jerusalem's hotels
Kobrin refused to discuss any special requests made by Biden’s staff on his behalf, other than to say that Biden’s butler arrived ahead of him to check out that food items in the president’s White House meals, are readily available in Israel.
Not all were, but the King David Hotel managed to procure them. Kobrin would only say that Biden ate dishes that he is used to, the only difference being that they were kosher. All his meals were prepared by his butler with the help of King David kitchen staff, and he ate them in his suite.
Even when Biden was visiting the Waldorf, meals for him and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were prepared by the White House butler and sent down the street to him.
The King David hosts most presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, foreign ministers and defense ministers who come to Israel, so the hotel’s staff are experienced and know exactly what to do. “We have staff who were here during the visit by President Sadat of Egypt,” he said – 45 years ago in 1977.
While security is tight for every visiting world leader, every country has its unique rules about security, the general manager said, intimating that there is no uniformity when it comes to ensuring the safety of high-level officials.
Kobrin is not expecting visits from foreign heads of government over the next three months, because it’s rare for a prime minister to pay an official visit when a country’s government is in transition. Then again, Israel is a country in which exceptions are the norm, so Prime Minister Yair Lapid may decide between now and election day on November 1 to invite his counterparts to come and see how Israelis conduct their election campaigns.