MSNBC anchor Ayman Mohyeldin repeatedly confronted a former Israeli ambassador on Tuesday as the cross-border fighting between Gaza militants and Israel continues to escalate, wondering aloud if he’d recognize that Israel is possibly responsible for “war crimes.”
After an Israeli airstrike leveled a 14-story apartment complex in Gaza City on Monday, a Tel Aviv neighborhood was hit by Palestinian rocket fire on Tuesday, killing three. Dozens of Israelis have also reportedly received medical treatment. At the same time, amid Israeli airstrikes, health officials in Gaza said at least 26 Palestinians have been killed, including nine children, and over 100 others wounded.
While the current tensions were apparently triggered by a violent police raid on a mosque in Jerusalem this week, the undercurrent of the conflict is decades—if not centuries—old, something Mohyeldin drilled down on in his interview with former Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom Mark Regev.
Noting that the Israel Foreign Ministry recently said that “Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real-estate dispute between private groups as a nationalistic cause,” the MSNBC anchor brought up 2009 remarks made by a Jewish settler who took over a Palestinian home.
“We take house after house because we prove in the court that this area belonged to the Jewish. And because of that, all this area will be a Jewish neighborhood. A dream that all East Jerusalem will be like West Jerusalem, Jewish capital of Israel,” the Jewish claimant said at the time.
Pointing out that the man is now on the Jerusalem City Council, Mohyeldin said this sounds less like a “land dispute” and more like a “stated strategy to remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem” to make it a Jewish city.
“He was speaking for himself,” Regev, who now serves as a foreign media advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, responded.
“He’s the spokesman for a settler organization,” the MSNBC anchor retorted.
“I understand. He is speaking for himself and the organization,” Regev said, before invoking Mohyeldin’s prior guest, a Palestinian evicted from East Jerusalem.
“The person who you had on before was speaking for himself and his organization,” he added. “He basically said Israel had no right to exist, he said my country was built on stealing other people’s land. So you have different opinions on both sides, very strong opinions on both sides.”
Mohyeldin followed up by reading a recent statement by the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who said last week that there’s a “wider strategy” of placing Jews throughout the eastern part of Jerusalem so as to achieve the larger goal of making Jerusalem a capital for Jewish people.
“How should Arabs who are living in Jerusalem interpret statements like this by the deputy mayor of this city?” Mohyeldin asked.
From there, the interview grew a bit more heated, with Regev complaining that Mohyeldin was constantly interrupting and pressing him to answer specific questions, something Regev felt the anchor didn’t do to his previous guest, Palestinian activist and writer Mohammed El-Kurd.
Mohyeldin, meanwhile, continued to press the ex-ambassador about inflammatory rhetoric from Israeli officials, such as the deputy mayor saying Palestinian activists should be “shot in the head.”
“To be fair, there were people demonstrating with Hamas flags. You know, Hamas calls for the murder of all Israelis. How am I supposed to see that? If you want to find extremists and say that represents Israel, you can do that,” Regev reacted.
“He’s the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. I’m not selecting a fringe element,” Mohyeldin shot back.
Eventually, the MSNBC host noted that the United Nations doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, challenging Regev on whether or not he felt evictions of Palestinian families in the area were criminal.
“A spokesperson for the United Nations’ high commissioner said any actions in Jerusalem that are enforced that would ultimately evict Palestinian families under international humanitarian law may amount to a war crime,” Mohyeldin stated. “What do you say to the international community who does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem and says what you’re doing to families like Mohammed [El-Kurd] and others is possibly a war crime?”
Regev described this as the “politicization of international law” before blasting the U.N for its “anti-Israel agenda” and claiming the organization doesn’t “have a lot of legitimacy on the issue.” He also suggested Palestinians have no rightful claim to territory in Jerusalem since “Israel reunited the city in 1967” and, before that, the area was occupied by Jordanians and the British.
“We’re not going down the history lessons here because, as you mentioned, you don’t recognize Palestinian claims to their homes in 1948 Israel or East Jerusalem. You won’t allow them to use the same judicial process that you’re advocating for Israelis to use,” Mohyeldin pushed back.
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Regev fired back. “I said what happened in 1948, that’s what you’re talking about here, I said there were almost a million Jews who were thrown out of their homes in the Arab countries.”
“There were less than that, Palestinian Arabs, who fled the fighting here,” he concluded. “And just as we made homes for the Jews, and my wife’s family were expelled from Syria, had that terrible journey on foot from Syria to Israel, we think it’s fair that the Arab world would accept their Arab brothers and sisters and integrate them. I think that’s fair history.”