What kind of place is Jerusalem, decades after the Arab eastern part of the city was annexed by Israel? And has the Israeli government stopped listening to the international community? Tim Sebastian meets Mark Regev.
The Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, has rejected criticism of structural discrimination against Israeli Arabs in Israel.
"All inhabitants of Israel have equality under the law and I'm proud to say that I live in the only country which guarantees legal equality under the law," Regev said, speaking exclusively to Tim Sebastian on DW's Conflict Zone.
This comes as the Israeli government faces repeated allegations, both from independent organisations and the US State Department, that it has not always treated all its citizens fairly. In January 2017, a report by the State Department stated: "Institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel goes on in particular in access to equal education, housing, and employment opportunities."
'A commitment to equality'
Confronted with the findings, Regev repeated: "We've made a commitment to equality of all our citizens, and it's crucial that we act in a proactive way through affirmative action to narrow those gaps."
The gap is huge though, especially in Jerusalem, which DW’s Tim Sebastian referred to as "a place of division and poverty". In Arab East Jerusalem, 76 percent of the residents and 83.4 percent of the children live below the poverty line according to the poverty report of the National Insurance Institute. In Israel, the poverty rate average is 21.7 percent - and 30 percent among children. In short, Arabs are 50 percent poorer than others in Israel.
In 2014, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin addressed what he called an "epidemic" of anti-Arab racism: "Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease. (…) I'm not asking if they've forgotten how to be Jews, but if they've forgotten how to be decent human beings. Have they forgotten how to converse?" Israel has a population of 8.9 million people of which 20 percent are Arab. "Isn't this a sign that Israel is a self-critical, introspective country where we debate the issues? We don't run away from uncomfortable news, we want to engage, we want to discuss," Regev told DW.
‘Gaps need to be narrowed’
Asked why the government had let parts of Jerusalem sink into poverty, Regev admitted more action is needed: "There are gaps that need to be narrowed but compare them to Arabs in other parts of the Middle East or even in the Palestinian territories you'll see that they are considerably better."
Jerusalem, long the focus of tensions, is also currently making headlines for other reasons.
In December 2017, US President Trump announced he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Trump's policy the "slap of the century". 128 UN member countries rejected the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying that any such step should be part of a final status agreement. Israel's Ambassador at the UN called those countries "puppets", and dubbed the UN "a house of lies".
Asked whether countries like China, Russia, India and France deserved to be called "puppets", Regev reinforced this line of argument: "The UN has a pattern of historic bias against my country." He said the UN passed more resolutions condemning Israel - "the only democracy in the Middle East", as he called it - than against Syria or Iraq, let alone North Korea.
Trump controversially anncounced that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israelin December 2017.
"President Trump's decision was a good decision and more countries should have supported it," Regev said about the controversial move. "I'm hopeful that eventually Britain will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there."
After Donald Trump’s decision was announced, the Israeli Prime Minister flew to Brussels and tried to convince the European Union to follow suit. Tim Sebastian suggested these were 'strong-arm' tactics, but Regev disagreed: "Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel since 1949, it's been the capital of the Jewish people for some 3000 years. Anyone who denies the Jewish connection to Jerusalem denies reality."