Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who two years ago likened himself to Hitler and said he would be happy to slaughter three million drug addicts, visited Yad Vashem Monday and said one lesson of the Holocaust is that despots and insane leaders should be “disposed of at the first instance.”
Duterte went to a Manila synagogue and apologized shortly after making the statement about Hitler in 2016. Nevertheless, it is one of his outlandish statements that has dogged him ever since.
Standing in the Hall of Names memorial at Yad Vashem alongside his daughter, Sara, Duterte said, “I could not imagine a country obeying an insane leader. And I could not ever fathom the spectacle of a human being going into a killing spree, murdering old men, women, men, children, mothers.”
Sara is the daughter of Duterte’s divorced Jewish wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman, whose family fled Nazi Germany and found refuge in the Philippines. The couple were married for 25 years and have three children.
Duterte toured the museum, and also laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance. In Yad Vashem’s guest book he wrote: “Never again. May the world learn the lesson of this horrific and benighted period of human history. May the hearts of peoples around the world remain ever open. And may the minds of all men and women learn to work together toward providing a safe haven for all who are being persecuted.”
Prior to going to Yad Vashem, Duterte – who arrived Sunday for a four-day visit, the first ever by a Filipino president – met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and thanked Israel for providing “critical help” to his country when “we needed it most,”
an apparent reference to unspecified assistance Jerusalem provided Manila last year in freeing Marawi City in the south of the country from terrorists affiliated with Islamic State after a five-month siege.
Netanyahu Meets President of the Philippines Duterte, September 2, 2018 (GPO)
Duterte, who did not go into detail, said this “very substantial and critical” assistance was “an important help to preserve the republic.”
“It [the siege] could have dragged on were it not for the very substantial and crucial equipment which I am not also at liberty to say now. But it was a help to preserve the republic and I thank you for that,” he said.
The president said Israel and the Philippines “share the same passion for peace, we share the same passion for human beings and we share the same passion of not allowing our countries to be destroyed by those with corrupt ideologies.”
Diplomatic officials said this was an apparent reference to the European Union, which has been very critical of Duterte’s war on drugs, which critics say has led to the execution of thousands of people.
“In this sense, Israel can expect any help that the Philippines can extend,” he said
Netanyahu welcomed Duterte by recalling that the country opened its doors to some 1,300 refugees from Germany and Austria during the Holocaust; that it was the only Asian country to vote for the Partition Plan in 1947; and that tens of thousands of Filipinos are giving care to elderly Israelis across the country.
Netanyahu interjected a personal note, saying his late father, who lived to 102, “received incredible care by a caregiver from the Philippines, a woman of exceptional compassion and intelligence.”
One of the agreements signed during their meeting was one that will put more money into caregivers’ pockets by cutting out fees to intermediaries who bring them to Israel.
Duterte, who met Sunday evening with hundreds of Filipinos working in the country, said they “are very happy working here, taking care of the aging population.”
He said that he was told they are treated in Israel “like human beings,” unlike other countries, which he did not specify.
Duterte also interjected a personal note into the visit, introducing his daughter to Netanyahu, and noting that she was a descendant of Jews who fled Nazi Germany and found refuge in his country.
In addition to an agreement on care workers, various tourism and defense deals were signed. The two men discussed direct flights from Tel Aviv to Manila, as well as the plight of an Israeli man missing in the Philippines for three years.
Late Sunday evening, Duterte met with hundreds of Filipino workers. During a speech to the group, he defended himself against criticism for saying last Thursday that rape would continue as long as there are beautiful women, saying – according to media reports of the speech in the Philippines – that he was “misunderstood,” but that in a democracy there is “freedom of expression.”
He also apologized during that speech for once cursing former US president Barack Obama
, saying, “I am sorry for uttering those words.” He also said that he forgave Obama for critical comments about the war he was waging on drugs. ABS-CBN News in the Philippines quoted him as describing Obama as a “cold person,” and saying that US President Donald Trump is a “good friend of mine” who “speaks my language.”
Duterte is scheduled to meet President Reuven Rivlin on Monday at the President’s Residence, where he is likely to encounter a demonstration against his visit.