Rodrigo Duterte is due in Israel on Sunday. Why are we opening our doors to him?
The Philippines president made headlines with his talk of doing to drug dealers what Hitler did to Jews. Rhetoric aside, apologies notwithstanding, the trouble is it's not all talk
On May 7, 2016, in the final speech of the campaign that would see him elected president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, the former mayor of the southern city of Davao City, vowed to “butcher” criminals if elected. “Forget the laws on human rights,” he said. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor… I’d kill you.”
On the campaign trail, the AFP news agency reported as the Philippines went to the polls days later, Duterte had promised to kill tens of thousands of criminals, threatened to establish one-man rule if lawmakers disobeyed him, boasted repeatedly about Viagra-fueled affairs, and assured voters that his mistresses would not cost a lot because he kept them in cheap boardinghouses and took them to short-stay hotels for sex. He called the pope a “son of a bitch” — for sparking a huge traffic jam during a 2015 Manila visit in which Duterte was stuck for hours. And he joked that he would like to have raped a “beautiful” Australian missionary who was killed in a 1989 Philippine prison riot: “There was this Australian lay minister. When they took them out, I saw her face and I thought, ‘Son of a whore. What a pity. They raped her, they all lined up. I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.’”
The outgoing president, Benigno Aquino, whose mother led the democracy movement that ousted Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago, argued repeatedly in the run-up to polling day that electing Duterte risked plunging the country back into dictatorship, and likened the candidate to Adolf Hitler: “We should remember how Hitler came to power,” Aquino warned. “If you allow them to oppress your fellow man and you do not speak up, you will be the next one to be oppressed.”
Months after taking office, in August 2016, Duterte sparked a row with the Obama administration by denouncing the US ambassador to Manila, Philip Goldberg. Goldberg, who happens to be Jewish, had criticized Duterte over his Australian missionary rape remark. “As you know, I’m fighting with [US Secretary of State John Kerry’s] ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore,” said Duterte. “He pissed me off.”
A month later, he escalated the confrontation with the US, all the way to the top. After Barack Obama expressed concern over the brutality with which Duterte was fighting his drug war, with 3,000 people killed in his first three months in office, the Philippines president insulted Obama hours ahead of a planned meeting: “You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore,” Duterte sniped. Obama canceled the talks.
Later that same month, Duterte compared himself to Hitler… favorably. Just as Hitler 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.”
In the same televised address, Duterte lashed out again against the United States government: “The Americans, I don’t like them…. they are reprimanding me in public. So I say: ‘Screw you, fuck you, everything else. You are stupid,’” he said.
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 (of which more later). “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?”
In May 2017, Duterte imposed martial law on 20 million people in a southern region of the Philippines in response to what he said were efforts by Islamic State-affiliated terrorists to establish a caliphate there. Encouraging his troops to uphold the new restrictions, he joked that his soldiers could rape up to three women and he would take the blame. “For this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible,” he said in a speech at an army base. “Just do your work. I will handle the rest… I will be imprisoned for you. If you rape three (women), I will say that I did it.”
Last November, by which time the death toll from his drug war was said by his police force to have reached 4,000, and by other monitors to be more than double that number, he bragged that he had stabbed someone to death when he was 16, “just over a look,” and added, in the context of that war on drugs, “How much more now that I am president?” In the same speech, delivered just before he hosted a summit of world leaders, he also threatened to slap a UN rights rapporteur.
By this time, the Reuters news agency had published a series of exposés that indicated Duterte’s police were summarily executing hundreds of alleged drug dealers — shooting them in the head and heart at close range. (Those reports would win the Reuters team a Pulitzer Prize.) Amnesty International had alleged that Duterte’s war on drugs was actually a war on the poor, in which the fatalities were those at the most impoverished bottom of the drug pyramid, while the bigger fish received far better treatment. The investigative journalism network OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), which reported that “Duterte has overseen the killing of more than 7,000 and possibly as many as 12,000,” had named him as its person of the year — the individual who had done “the most in the world to advance organized criminal activity and corruption.”
Two months ago, he took his criticisms to the highest level of all, branding God stupid and a son of a bitch: Lamenting in a speech that Adam and Eve’s sin in Christian theology resulted in all the faithful falling from divine grace, Duterte stormed: “Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is then really stupid… You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sin … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept; very stupid proposition.”
A few days later, amid the predictable storm, he characteristically doubled down, by promising to quit if anyone could prove that God exists. If there was “one single witness” who could show conclusively, perhaps with a picture or a selfie, Duterte said, that a human was “able to talk [with] and to see God,” he would immediately resign, he promised.
All of the above incidents and utterances have been widely reported globally, including in Israel — the homophobic remarks, the despicable comments about rape, the contempt for religion, the contempt for human life, the emulation of Hitler-style murder of millions, the alleged actual practice of mass killing…
On Sunday evening, Israel will welcome Rodrigo Duterte on an official state visit, heading what Israel’s Kan state broadcaster reported on Wednesday evening will be a 400-strong delegation.
He will have lunch the next day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will be solemnly hosted at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum to the six million Jewish victims of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. He will meet with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. He will watch a simulation of an emergency medical disaster response at the Magen David Adom station in Jerusalem. He will lay a wreath at a monument in a Rishon Letzion park marking the saving of Jews by the Philippines during the Holocaust.
Announcing the start of planning for his visit in March, an Israeli official was quoted trying to explain why Israel was hosting him: “There are many controversial leaders in the world and many countries that criticize them. Duterte is not boycotted by the world, there are no sanctions against him and he has visited a number of countries since taking office.” That official insisted on anonymity. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem had no official comment.
Among the reasons privately cited by officials for Duterte’s trip is his desire to visit the many Filipino foreign workers in Israel, with whom he will meet in the first event of his tour on Sunday evening. It is also suggested that Israel hopes to encourage support from the Philippines in votes at the United Nations and its various bodies. There has been speculation that Duterte may be prepared to move the Philippines’ embassy to Jerusalem.
Centrally, Duterte has made plain he intends to buy a great deal of Israeli arms.
Wednesday’s Kan TV report (Hebrew) said Duterte will be coming with his defense minister, with top military officers, with senior police officials. That they will meet with their Israeli counterparts. That they will visit Israeli army bases. “In the Philippines, and in Israel’s defense industries, there is tremendous interest in advancing arms deals — in other words, signing defense contracts with the Philippines,” the TV report said.
Duterte had indicated precisely this intention in his October 2016 Rosh Hashanah speech in Manila. After dealing with the Hitler issue, he went on, in that address two years ago, to praise Israel’s “President Netanyahu” (sic) for shrugging off criticism of his policies from Obama’s America. Said Duterte admiringly: “I am sure you are familiar with how Netanyahu responds to vicious attacks against his policies. You hear him always. He doesn’t care! America? He doesn’t listen to America! Just shut up. We have our own problems. We will solve it our way.”
If America continued to criticize his own policies, Duterte went on, “I will be reconfiguring my foreign policy. Eventually, I might… break off with America. I would rather go to Russia and to China. Even if we do not agree with their ideology, they have respect for the people.” (His ties with the Trump administration are far better than they were with Obama — indeed, President Donald Trump last year praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” — so that scenario has not come to pass.)
Then Duterte turned to the subject of military purchases: “On the matter of arms, I said, Do not buy from anyone except from Israel,” he told the Manila Jewish congregants. “Why? Because we have excellent relations.” And also, he explained to the congregation, because Israel wouldn’t trick him like the Americans would: “If you sell us this gadget, they will not include a bug there, for them to listen also to what’s being sold to us.
“If I get it from America, and you are talking here secrets, blah, blah, blah,” he elaborated, to laughter, describing the process by which American arms companies purportedly put bugs in the weaponry they sell, “they are listening. Because before you buy it, you put another screw there [to listen]…”
“Please, ask your people who are here to sell us arms,” he urged in the synagogue. “All of my equipments… I’ve always told the national security… I said, Buy it from the Israel companies. Because we are safe. Why? Because we are friends… What is the common denominator that makes us be friends? God. We believe in righteousness. We believe in karma…”
A month later, addressing Filipino troops, he returned to the theme, urging his forces to improve their skills in the battle against terrorism, and talking about the purchase of Israeli military and intelligence equipment: “You should get it as fast as Israel can produce it. I’m buying,” he said. “So how many are you?” he asked members of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division. “Almost… 130,000-plus… I will buy.”
As of this writing, Duterte is facing two complaints of murder and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for alleged indiscriminate killings. Last month, the Philippines’ top anti-corruption prosecutor finished a seven-year term during which she infuriated Duterte by criticizing the brutality of his drug war and for investigating his alleged secret bank accounts. She has been replaced by a Duterte loyalist. A prominent opposition critic, Leila de Lila, who has called Duterte a serial killer, was jailed in February 2017 for what she says are fabricated drug charges. His government acknowledges almost 5,000 deaths and 50,000 arrests in the drug war; human rights groups put the figures far higher, and say most of those dead are the urban poor. An opposition senator charged in February that the death toll was over 20,000.
Rodrigo Duterte will land in Israel on Sunday night — professing friendship, seeking weaponry.
This man has no place here.
With reporting by AFP and AP.