King David fit for a president

Hotel, which this year celebrates its 80th anniversary, is temporarily playing host to President Shimon Peres’s state meals and meetings.

King David Hotel 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
King David Hotel 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem’s legendary King David hotel is used to hosting heads of state and even royalty. It has been home away from home to kings, queens, princes, princesses, presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, defense ministers, top ranking entertainers, world ranking academics, business people on the Fortune 400 list – and then some.
The hotel, which this year celebrates its 80th anniversary, had not planned to do anything special for the occasion, because it had hosted a series of ceremonial events on its 75th.
But fate decreed otherwise.
This year, after many years of wrangling, Beit Hanassi finally received the green light for much needed renovations, as a result of which, the president cannot hold public functions, state dinners or large meetings at home.
While President Shimon Peres has great respect for all the five-star hotels overlooking the old city, none has quite the panache of the King David, which combines a genteel old world atmosphere with contemporary sophistication. There’s a certain regal ambience at the King David that other hotels, for all their grandeur, simply cannot emulate.
The bottom line is that until the renovations at Beit Hanassi are completed – hopefully by Pessah – all of the president’s state luncheons and dinners, as well as meetings with visiting dignitaries who bring large entourages, will be held at the King David.
Although hotel staff rose splendidly to the challenge, the result on Sunday was that expressive Russian word that has been adopted into Hebrew – balagan, or, chaos – with workers rushing through the corridors feverishly muttering into cellphones.
Sheldon Ritz, deputy general manager and chief of operations at the King David, took the whole thing in his stride.
For one thing, the King David is also currently undergoing its own renovations, and the fifth and sixth floors have been closed for several months and will remain closed until April 1. When the renovations are completed, there will be seven presidential suites, with two on the sixth floor.
What’s different about having a takeover by the president of Israel than, say, the president of the United States, is that all commercial insignia have to be removed.
No signboards, backdrops, podiums, lecterns or screens bearing the King David logo or company name are permitted.
Beit Hanassi brought its own equipment, including microphones and red carpets.
The King David balked at the latter, because its own red carpets edged with gold are in far better condition, and the hotel insisted on using its own carpet in the entrance lobby.
Peres on Sunday hosted a reception and state luncheon for visiting Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and waited alongside the red carpet for his guest to arrive from Yad Vashem.
The problem was that there were other guests staying at the hotel, including Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, whose party happened to enter at the wrong moment and was shooed off the red carpet by a member of Peres’s staff.
Also staying there over the past week were the president of the German Bundesrat and the vice president of the German Bundestag as well as the Foreign Ministers of Romania, Norway and Sweden.
Both the German and Polish bilateral meetings were held at the King David although the Polish delegation actually stayed at the Mount Zion hotel.
Next week, as far as Ritz can remember amid all the turmoil, guests will include the president of the Russian Supreme Court, the president of the Georgian parliament and the president of Cyprus, for whom Peres will host another state luncheon or dinner.
“The hotel is working around the clock to make sure that everything is perfect.
In our job, there’s no room for error,” Ritz said.