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Israeli journalist discusses life in Donald Trump’s White House

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Amir Tibon

As a journalist in Washington, D.C., Amir Tibon’s view of the Trump administration may not be what you think.

Amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s regular wars with the press corps, in which he famously accuses the media of spreading “fake news” and being “the enemy of the people,” Tibon, the Washington correspondent for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, says he’s been treated well.

“The people I work with in the White House are actually very professional and very respectful,” Tibon told a small Toronto gathering this month after addressing a synagogue audience the night before.

“It’s a complex relationship. On a personal level, I feel OK working with this White House. At the same time, I see what’s coming out of the Tweeter-in-Chief, and it’s very bad.”

READ: DONALD TRUMP IS INSENSITIVE TO JEWS: HISTORIAN SIMON SCHAMA

Tibon, who has reported from the U.S. capital for Haaretz since January 2017, said that unlike his American counterparts, he can ignore all the salacious and damning news surrounding Trump and focus on the administration’s policies on Israel, which is what his readers want.

Trump’s Israel-friendly stance makes him wildly popular in the Jewish state, because most residents hear or see only what the president says about Israel. “Everything else,” Tibon said, “is considered foreign news.”

“If you filter your news about Trump only through the Israeli dimension, of course you will have a better opinion of him than if you followed his shenanigans every day,” he continued.

Even criticism of Tibon’s work by administration officials has been in a “professional and respectful manner. It’s a good dialogue and a respectful one,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, holds a joint press conference with and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in 2017. (Benjamin D. Applebaum/The White House)

But he’s not letting Trump off the hook completely.

For one, he called the White House’s doctoring of a video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta “a total disgrace.”

Tibon said the way Trump talks about the media “is very dangerous for journalists all over the world,” including in Israel, because it inspires other leaders to attack or limit the press.

Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been emboldened. He has used the phrase “fake news,” and recently attacked a reporter, saying, “We don’t want to be like CNN,” Tibon said.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a press conference in the White House on Nov. 7. (White House photo)

Most recently, Tibon reported that the White House’s much-awaited Middle East peace plan is slated to be delivered late this year or early next. He said he was told the time frame would not change, even if Israel’s delicate coalition government falls in the wake of former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation and if elections are called.

Tibon said the plan will have a “huge” economic component that will seek investment in the Gaza Strip, which he welcomes, saying an economically stable Gaza is in Israel’s interests.

“If people there are living in miserable (conditions) and have got nothing to lose, of course we’re going to suffer from the repercussions,” he said.

Deterioration of health and living conditions that could propel tens of thousands of Gazans to the border in protest would present Israel with “a nightmare scenario.”

If you filter your news about Trump only through the Israeli dimension, of course you will have a better opinion of him than if you followed his shenanigans every day.
– Amir Tibon

But, he noted, “to have an economic plan without a political component is even worse because you can’t make people give up their identity, their dream and their national interest with money.”

Turning to a leading domestic issue in Israel, he called the government’s continuing “discrimination” against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism “indefensible and inexcusable.”

But at the same time, there is “a huge, positive change taking place in Israeli society,” in which more and more people are taking part in non-Orthodox life-cycle ceremonies, such as marriage.

“It’s a trend that is growing,” he said.

Tibon’s talks in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto were sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.