Netanyahu warmly welcomes Philippines’ Duterte to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister says friendship between the countries has ‘blossomed’ and makes special mention of Filipino carers amid criticism over embracing controversial leader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 11:31pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended a warm welcome to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday at the start of an official visit, despite being criticised for embracing a leader accused of human rights abuses in his deadly drug crackdown.

The two leaders oversaw the signing of three agreements in trade, science and caregiving. Netanyahu highlighted the countries’ long friendship, how the Philippines took in Jewish refugees after the second world war and was the only Asian nation to vote for Israel’s establishment.

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He noted how in recent years Filipino health aides have assisted the elderly in Israel, including Netanyahu’s own father.

“We remember our friends, and that friendship has blossomed over the years and especially over the last few years,” Netanyahu told Duterte. “There has been a remarkable phenomenon in Israel where thousands and thousands of families have taken heart from the support given by Filipino caretakers for the elderly.”

Duterte thanked Israel for hosting some 28,000 Filipino workers and for assisting his country in its times of need.

“We share the same passion for peace, we share the same passion for human beings but also we share the same passion of not allowing our country to be destroyed by those who have the corrupt ideology, who know nothing but to kill and destroy. And in this sense Israel can expect any help that the Philippines can extend to your country,” he said at a joint appearance with Netanyahu.

The visit is the first by a Philippine president to Israel since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1957.

But Netanyahu has come under fire for embracing Duterte, whose forces are accused of killing thousands in anti-drug raids since he took office in 2016. Duterte drew outrage that year when he compared his anti-drug campaign to the Holocaust, and himself to Hitler, saying he would be “happy to slaughter” 3 million addicts. He later apologised.

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More recently, he forcibly kissed a woman on stage and said there would be many rape cases in a Philippine city “if there were many beautiful women”.

Official Philippine police tallies place the number of suspects killed in police-led anti-drug raids at more than 4,500 since Duterte took office. International human rights watchdogs have cited far higher death tolls. Duterte, a 73-year-old former government prosecutor, denies condoning extrajudicial killings but has openly threatened drug dealers with death.

He is expected to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Monday and later a monument commemorating the Philippines’ rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.

Responding to his visit, 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 has worked to cultivate allies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where many countries have historically shunned Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

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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 US$21 million.

Associated Press and Agence France-Presse