Israel took nine visiting UN ambassadors on a tour of the City of David archaeological park in Jerusalem on Sunday in a bid to highlight the Jewish heritage of the holy city following a spate of UN resolutions denying that historic link.
The diplomats, representatives of Australia, Estonia, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Togo, were led on the tour by Israeli’s UN envoy Danny Danon and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and shown ancient remains believed to be from the Jewish town that stood on the site in biblical times.
The visit was organized by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee.
“To defeat the lies spread about our capital city at the UN, nothing is more important than for my fellow ambassadors to learn the truth about Jerusalem and see the beauty of this city firsthand,” Danon said in a statement. “The more UN ambassadors visit Israel, the more they appreciate both the challenges we face and the opportunities that exist in our region.”
The City of David — which archaeologists believe is the actual site of biblical Jerusalem and the epicenter of the Davidic dynasty — draws about half a million visitors each year. Its two sections are located beyond the pre-1967 lines in the city’s east, which the international community does not recognize as part of the State of Israel.
Foreign dignitaries therefore rarely visit these sites in an official capacity and generally do not meet Israeli officials there.
Danon said he has brought over 30 ambassadors to Israel in the last year and plans to bring more.
Barkat showed the envoys artifacts found at the site as proof of its Jewish past.
“The coin you see in my hands, found in the City of David excavations, is emblazoned with the inscription — ‘For the Liberation of Zion,'” he told the ambassadors. “This coin is one of thousands that we find at our feet which unequivocally prove the Jewish and Christian roots in Jerusalem. Today, we work to fulfill the imperative emblazoned on the coin: Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, is free and open to people of all religions, beliefs, and backgrounds.”
Opposition MK Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, met with the visiting ambassadors at the Knesset where he urged an end to what he described as the UN bias against Israel.
“Today in the Knesset I delivered a simple message to a delegation of UN ambassadors who were brought to Israel,” Lapid wrote in a post on his Twitter feed. “The bias against us is a personal insult to every Israeli and it means the UN cannot be an honest broker. It has to stop.”
— יאיר לפיד (@yairlapid) July 3, 2017
In May the UN’s cultural body UNESCO adopted a resolution asserting that as an “occupying power,” Israel has no legal or historical ties to Jerusalem, sparking anger from Israeli politicians.
Submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan on Israel’s Independence Day, the resolution on “Occupied Palestine” referred to Israel as the “occupying power” in its capital, indicating that it has no legal or historical ties to any part of the city.
Israel has previously clashed with the UN and UNESCO in particular. In April 2016, 24 countries voted for a similar UNESCO resolution, with six opposing and 26 abstaining, that ignores Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.