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Philippine leader to visit Israel’s Holocaust memorial

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by Mike Smith

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has apologised for comparing himself to Hitler, will pay respects at Israel’s Holocaust memorial on Monday after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Duterte steered clear of further controversial remarks on meeting the Israeli premier, saying they “share the same passion for peace” ahead of their working lunch.

“But we also share the same passion of not allowing our country to be destroyed by those who have the corrupt ideology who knows nothing but to kill and destroy,” he said in English.

Netanyahu noted the Philippines’ support for Israel at the United Nations and said that his father had been cared for by a Filipino in his later years, as is the case with many elderly Israelis.

Duterte’s visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem later Monday led to criticism even before it took place, mainly due to comments in 2016 when he likening himself to Adolf Hitler.

Duterte later apologised and said he had been misunderstood.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an editorial headlined “A Hitler admirer at Yad Vashem,” while left-wing politicians questioned why Netanyahu would welcome Duterte with open arms.

Netanyahu “is willing to whitewash an illegitimate leader, who took pride in massacring his citizens and violating human rights, and why?” Tamar Zandberg, head of the leftist Meretz party, wrote on Facebook.

“Because Duterte is willing to support the occupation (of the West Bank),” she said.

– ‘Great importance’ –
Netanyahu is always on the lookout for allies who will support Israel in international forums, where the country often faces criticism over its occupation of Palestinian territory.

In recent months, he has found common cause with a number of nationalist leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The Philippines was among the countries that abstained from a UN General Assembly vote rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

Israel’s government has focused on what it sees as the positive aspects of Duterte’s visit, the first by a Philippine leader in more than 60 years of diplomatic ties.

Topics expected to be discussed include defence deals, a key industry for Israel which is among the world’s biggest arms exporters.

The Philippines emerged as a significant new customer in 2017 for Israel, with sales of radar and anti-tank equipment worth $21 million.

It is also an important provider of labour to Israel, where some 28,000 Filipinos live including many working as care providers for the elderly.

On Wednesday, Duterte will inaugurate a memorial near Tel Aviv commemorating the Philippines’ acceptance of 1,300 Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

“We assign great importance to this visit, which symbolises the strong, warm ties between our ‎two peoples as well as the enormous potential for developing and strengthening the relations,” Israel’s foreign ministry said.

– ‘I am sorry’ –
All visiting leaders pay their respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, usually without much fanfare.

But Duterte’s Hitler remarks and other controversial actions, including his internationally condemned drug crackdown that has killed thousands, has led to increased attention.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said in 2016.

Duterte later apologised and said the comments were aimed at critics who had likened him to the Nazi leader.

Historians say six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

On Sunday night while speaking to Filipinos in Israel, Duterte expressed regret over previously calling former US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore”.

Duterte lobbed the insult in 2016 in response to steady criticism from the United States over his violent drug crackdown.

“It would be appropriate also to say at this time to Mr. Obama that you are now a civilian and I am sorry for uttering those words,” Duterte said Sunday.

Duterte heads to Jordan on September 5, where he is expected to meet King Abdullah II.

Agence France-Presse