'My country will help ensure Holocaust doesn't happen again'

At Yad Vashem, Philippines’ Duterte pledges to fight ‘insane rulers’ like Hitler

Visiting president, who once likened himself to Nazi leader in vow to kill millions in drug trade, calls for learning lessons of ‘horrific and benighted period of human history’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called Adolf Hitler “insane” during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and pledged that his country would fight against other such leaders.

Duterte said in his speech that it was “insanity, what happened here in Europe. I could not imagine a country obeying an insane leader, and I could not ever fathom the spectacle of a human being going on a killing spree, murdering old men, women, men and children.”

The Philippines’ leader’s visit has been criticized in Israel, partly due to comments he made in 2016, when he said he would “be happy to slaughter” millions of drug users in his country and likened himself in that context to Hitler, who also slaughtered millions.

He later apologized for having mentioned Jews, but not for his endorsement of mass killings of those in the drug trade.

In his Yad Vashem speech, Duterte said of the Holocaust, “I hope that this will not happen again. I hope the world has learned the lesson. My country will make sure it does not happen again as much as we can.”

He signed the Holocaust memorial’s guestbook, writing: “Never again. May the world learn the lessons of this horrific and benighted period of human history. May the hearts of peoples around the world remain forever open, and may the minds of all men and women learn to work together towards providing a safe haven for all those who are being persecuted.”

Duterte’s government has acknowledged 5,000 deaths and 50,000 arrests in his war on the drug trade. Human rights groups put the figures far higher, and say most of those dead are the urban poor.

The Reuters news agency has published a series of exposés that indicate Duterte’s police have summarily executed hundreds of alleged drug dealers and users — shooting them in the head and heart at close range.

‘Passion for human beings’

Earlier Monday, in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Duterte said Manila and Jerusalem share a commitment to peace and against “corrupt ideologies.”

“We share the same passion for peace. We share the same passion for human beings,” he said. “But we also share the same passion of not allowing a country to be destroyed by those who [have] corrupt ideologies that promote nothing but to kill and to destroy. In this sense, Israel can expect any help that the Philippines can extend.”

Speaking ahead of their meeting Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office, both Netanyahu and Duterte hailed historically warm bilateral ties but added a personal touch to their remarks, which also centered on the tens of thousands of Filipino caretakers that work in Israel.

Benzion, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Benzion, left, and son Benjamin Netanyahu (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Netanyahu noted that his late father, the historian Benzion Netanyahu, “received incredible care” from a Filipino caregiver, Lee, before he died in 2012 at the age of 102.

“She took care of my father’s every need. And when he passed away, she took care of his brother’s needs, until he passed away,” he said.

“There has been a remarkable phenomenon in Israel where thousands and thousands of families have taken heart from the support given by Filipino care workers to the elderly. I am one of those families, Mr. President,” Netanyahu said, adding that he and many Israelis are “deeply moved by this show of humanity.”

Netanyahu hailed the Philippines’ “exceptional role” in opening its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and being the only country in Asia to have voted in favor of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which paved the way for Israel’s creation a year later.

“Mr. President, we remember our friends. And that friendship has blossomed over the years, and especially over the last few years,” Netanyahu said.

Duterte thanked Israel for helping the Philippines during the so-called Marawi Siege of 2017, an armed conflict between government forces and Islamic State militants.

“We got help from your country, thank you for that,” Duterte said, presumably referring to Israeli arms provisions.

Human rights activists accused both IS and Manila of human rights violations during the five-month Marawi Siege.

After the leaders’ brief remarks, Israeli and Filipino ministers signed a series of bilateral agreements, including one geared toward improving the conditions of Filipino caregivers working in Israel. Among other things, the agreement, signed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Secretary of Labor and Employment Silvestre Hernando Bello, will “knock off as much as $12,000 from the cost of every caregiver,” Netanyahu said.

“This is money that is taken away from the caregivers and the families, the Israeli families who so want their service,” he said. “This is an exceptional agreement and I think it heralds the kind of friendship that we are developing.”

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, September 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/pool)

On Tuesday, Duterte will be welcomed by President Reuven Rivlin in his official residence and preside over a business seminar for heads of large companies from Israel and the Philippines in his Jerusalem hotel.

More than 150 Filipino businesspeople are part of Duterte’s delegation.

On Wednesday, the president is scheduled to lay a wreath at the “Open Doors” Monument in Rishon Lezion’s Holocaust Memorial Park. He will be joined by two Holocaust survivors who came to the Philippines in 1939 and have since moved to Israel.

Though it is not officially listed on his schedule, Duterte’s trip to Israel has been expected to focus on exploring possible arms deals. He has said in the past that he sees Israel as an alternative supplier of weapons after the US and other countries refused to sell him arms over human rights violations.

Since being elected in mid-2016, Duterte has also caused uproar for his comments on women, including rape jokes, boasting about adultery, shaming female critics and inciting soldiers to shoot female guerrillas in the vagina.

Duterte sparked fresh criticism ahead of his departure for Israel, blaming rapes in his hometown of Davao on the beauty of the women there.

“They say there are many rape cases in Davao,” Duterte said in a speech on Thursday. “For as long as there are many beautiful women, there will be many rape cases, too.”

On Sunday, in a typically controversial speech to Filipino workers in Jerusalem, he apologized to Barack Obama for calling him a “son of a whore” two years ago but defended his recent rape remarks.

I respect the Jewish people

Duterte likened himself to Hitler in remarks in September 2016. Just as the Nazi leader killed Jews in the Holocaust, he boasted, he was killing drug dealers and users. “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said. “At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…” he said, indicating himself.

Following an outcry, including protests from the US and Israel, Duterte apologized… kind of. His spokesman corrected the figure of Jewish Holocaust victims: “We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust,” said Ernesto Abella. But Abella confirmed that Duterte was indeed ready to kill millions of purported drug dealers. “Duterte was referencing his ‘willingness to kill’ three million criminal drug dealers – to save the future of the next generation and the country,” the spokesman said.

Then Duterte himself explained that he had invoked Hitler’s name only because others had compared him to the Nazi leader. He apologized to the Jews, but was adamant that he’d said nothing untoward about the need for mass killings in the Philippines. “So I said, ‘sure I am Hitler, but the ones I will kill are these (drug addicts),’” Duterte said in a speech broadcast on national television. “But it is not really that I said something wrong. But rather they do not really want to tinker with the memory, so I apologize profoundly and deeply to the Jewish (people). It was never my intention but the problem was I was criticized using Hitler, comparing to me. But I was very emphatic. I will kill the three million.”

A few weeks later, he went to a Manila synagogue to apologize “from the heart” for the Jewish reference in his Hitler remarks: “I mentioned the word Jewish and that was what was terribly wrong and for that I apologize,” Duterte said in a speech that coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. “But I’m not one of the racist members of this republic.” He was, he said, a tough leader determined to rid the Philippines of its drug blight: “You know it’s my character … I am I, and you are you,” he said. “God created me to be in this way.”

“I really came here to say I am sorry. Because I respect the Jewish people,” he stressed in the speech, an emotional half-hour address in which he put aside his prepared remarks and extemporized at length about Jews, God, Israel, the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the Entebbe rescue, and Israeli arms sales. “As a matter of fact my [former] wife is a Zimmerman… a descendant of an American Jew,” he noted. “So why would I defile the memory of the Jews?”

Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.

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