NEW YORK – A large delegation of UN ambassadors from around the world took part in celebrations marking Israel’s 70th year of independence on Thursday.
Led by UN Ambassador Danny Danon, 40 ambassadors from Europe, Latin America and Africa participated in an event held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where they enjoyed the evening with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The delegation, which arrived earlier this week, met with senior leaders including Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat before going on a tour of the Old City.
“This has been a fantastic experience,” Ethiopian Ambassador Tekeda Alemu said after visiting the Western Wall. “My fellow ambassadors and I learned many lessons. One lesson was the fact that there is a clear connection between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. That is something that cannot be ignored.”
Ukrainian UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko described Israel’s capital as a “great place,” adding: “I wish for Jerusalem to be a place for peace and to remain such a place forever.”
The ambassadors also met with IDF officers and were taken to meet Kibbutz Kfar Aza residents near the border with Gaza on Tuesday. They were led into a neutralized terrorist tunnel and given a short briefing by security officials on the situation along the border.
Danon said this was particularly important since the weekly events on the Gaza border are likely to be discussed in the near future in both the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.
The ambassadors also visited the Dead Sea and Masada, spent time in Tel Aviv, toured Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, the City of David and the Western Wall and were invited to lay a wreath at Yad Vashem.
“We are proud to host so many friends of Israel from around the world who came here to celebrate 70 years of independence with us and to strengthen the ties between our countries during this historic visit,” Danon said.
The purpose of the trip is to give the ambassadors, who are often called upon to vote on Israel- related issues – and who generally do not vote in Israel’s favor – a firsthand look at the challenges the country faces and to emphasize, in light of recent UNESCO votes that have sought to erase a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s link to the historical capital.
“The positive feelings that Guatemala has toward Jerusalem are the result of not only the Bible, but from the values of the State of Israel and the contributions it makes to the world in so many areas like science and technology,” Ambassador Jorge Skinner-Klee said. “I believe that the ties between our two countries will only continue to strengthen.”
The delegation was co-sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, the March of the Living and the American Zionist Movement.
Herb Keinon contributed to this article.