Philippines' Duterte, who once likened himself to Hitler, visits Jerusalem's Holocaust memorial
Issued on: Modified:
The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte paid a visit to Jerusalem’s national Holocaust memorial on the second day of his controversial visit to Israel, branding the Nazi leader "insane" as he lamented the genocide of six million Jews.
The comments marked a dramatic turnaround for Duterte, who just two years ago had compared his anti-drug campaign to the Holocaust and said he would be "happy to slaughter" three million addicts. He later apologised.
Duterte, known for his profane outbursts and accused of committing widespread human rights abuses, spoke quietly and respectfully during his stop at the Yad Vashem memorial. He said the Holocaust should never be repeated and that "despots" have no place in the modern world.
"I could not imagine a country obeying an insane leader, and I could not ever fathom the spectacle of the human being going into a killing spree, murdering old men, women and children. I hope this will not happen again," he said.
"There is always a lesson to learn: that despots and leaders who show insanity, they should be disposed of at the first instance," he said.
Duterte, the first Philippine president to visit Israel, has received a warm welcome from the government, despite criticism that it is embracing a leader accused of rights abuses in his deadly crackdown on drug dealers.
The agenda is expected to include an arms sale to the Philippines. Israel agreed in the past to sell assault rifles to the Philippines national police force.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked Monday on the countries' long friendship. He said the Philippines took in Jewish refugees after World War II and was the only Asian nation to vote for Israel's establishment. He noted that Filipino health aides now assist the elderly in Israel, including Netanyahu's 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, who will inaugurate a memorial near Tel Aviv on Wednesday commemorating the Philippines' acceptance of Jews fleeing the Holocaust, thanked Israel for hosting some 28,000 Filipino workers and for assisting his country in 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," he said at a joint appearance with Netanyahu.
The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1957. Netanyahu has worked to cultivate new allies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where many countries have historically sided with the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, to help chip away at the number of anti-Israel votes at the United Nations.
But Netanyahu has come under fire for embracing Duterte, a 73-year-old former government prosecutor 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. 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".
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)," Zandberg added.
Members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party also expressed reservations, with Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee chairman Avi Dichter stating: “It may be that we have to take a pill against nausea to receive him."
In its lead editorial Monday, the liberal Haaretz daily accused Netanyahu of selling out Israeli values for dubious allies.
"Under the shadow of Duterte's visit, Israel once again proves it's willing to overlook leaders' human rights violations for the sake of opportunities for arms deals and defence contracts," the newspaper said.
Drawing a parallel with Netanyahu’s embrace of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an admirer of Hungary’s Nazi-allied World War II leader Miklos Horthy, Haaretz said Duterte’s visit was consistent with the Israeli prime minister’s “diplomatic worldview, under which it’s necessary to bolster ties with leaders of countries where liberal values aren’t high priority, to say the least, in order to shatter the Western consensus against the occupation".
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.
It also emerged as a significant new customer in 2017 for Israel, with sales of radar and anti-tank equipment worth $21 million.
Duterte, who calls Trump a friend and in 2016 cursed President Barack Obama for alleged meddling, has offered the former occupant of the White House an apology of sorts during his Israel trip.
"I said, 'Son of a bitch, Obama you can go to hell. You son of a bitch.' I said that because he was not a civilised person," Duterte said during a meeting with Filipinos in Jerusalem. "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.'"
On Wednesday, Duterte heads to Jordan, where he is expected to meet King Abdullah II.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)