We learned a number of interesting facts last week during Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Israel. For example, we learned that in 1939, the Philippines authorized 10,000 visas to persecuted Jews and that 1,300 reached safety in the Pacific nation. And we learned that Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, has a Jewish grandfather. And finally, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded at the start of his meeting with Duterte, “The Philippines was the only Asian country that voted for the establishment of the State of Israel in the U.N. resolution in 1947.” (Israel and the Philippines didn’t establish diplomatic ties until 1957.)
Not a word in those warm recitations about Duterte presiding over a reign of terror and death in his own country. In what began two years ago as a claimed fight against drug dealers, Duterte’s offensive has been accused of killing as many as 12,000 Philippines citizens. And Duterte is facing two complaints of murder and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. One headline covering the trip announced: “As Duterte wraps up Israel visit, Philippine mayor on his drug list is shot dead.”
Duterte went to Israel in search of an arms deal, among other agreements, as Israel is the Philippines’ fourth-largest arms supplier, behind Indonesia, South Korea and the United States. But the Jewish state reportedly “balked” at an expansion of police cooperation between the two countries after the Justice Ministry gutted the proposed cooperation agreement.
In 2016, Duterte compared his anti-drug campaign to Hitler’s extermination campaign against the Jews. He later apologized for having mentioned Jews, but not for his endorsement of mass killings.
But during his visit to Yad Vashem, where he reportedly planted a tree, Duterte called Hitler an insane leader. “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.”
While the irony of his own statement may have been lost on Duterte, others noticed. Indeed, Daniel Gouri de Lima quipped in Haaretz that Duterte was the kind of bold leader the world needed. “Finally, Israel would see, even if only briefly, a head of state stalwart enough to look citizens in the eye and then put a bullet through that eye. A true leader, unafraid,” he wrote.
Politics and diplomacy make strange bedfellows. And we fully understand that Israel needs friends in all parts of the world. But neither Israel nor any other country needs a strutting dictator and strongman who systematically kills his own people — no matter how strongly he condemns others who do the same thing.