The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is on a four-day visit to Israel, the first such trip by any Filipino leader. Even though he declared during the 2016 election that he would be “happy to slaughter drug addicts on the scale of the Nazi leader’s Jewish genocide,” that does not seem to bother his Israeli hosts. They are keen to promote commercial and military ties, and the only thing that might irk them is if he makes similar remarks while in Israel. Hence, “both sides want to keep the visit as low-key as possible.”
Duterte’s visit follows the signing of an agreement in Poland in June by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which absolves Poland of its role in the extermination of Polish Jews during the Second World War. This was despite ample evidence of passive and active collaboration, “as was the case throughout Europe,” wrote Mairav Zonszein in the Washington Post. Netanyahu has also fostered close ties with Hungary’s far-right, anti-Semitic Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán.
Netanyahu’s 26-year-old son, Yair, is known to have posted an anti-Semitic caricature on Facebook depicting George Soros at the top of the global food chain. The implication was that a Jewish financier controls the world, a common anti-Semitic trope. It seems that the Israel-led campaign against anti-Semitism doesn’t apply when national interests and business deals are at stake.
Unlike the Europeans, the Philippines government does not pay much attention to Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem; or its excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians; or its use of internationally-banned weapons against the people in the Gaza Strip. The Philippines, in fact, cares very little for human rights, to the extent that its voting record at the UN is more or less in favour of Israel. Getting Duterte, who has never visited anywhere beyond East Asia, to visit Israel is a diplomatic coup for Netanyahu.
Media reports in Israel say that the state would like to thank Duterte for taking in European Jews during the Holocaust. In doing so, Israel was demonstrating that it is not only the “Jewish state”, but also speaks and acts on behalf of world Jewry. Once again the Holocaust was used to facilitate Israeli diplomacy and, of course, the Filipino President made the obligatory visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
Why, though, did Duterte chose to visit Israel and not a European or Western country? Probably because Israel does not ask too many questions when it comes to human rights, nor does its government care about violations and rhetoric of the kind favoured by its latest visitor. What does Israel have to offer Duterte? He was accompanied by a number of former security and military officers, but was this simply to reward them for their service to their country and go shooting in Sinai, as he claimed?
Israel is built upon the notion that it has been favoured among all nations, and so it is superior to its Asian and African neighbours. Hence, it believes that it also has the solutions for Asia’s problems in agriculture, security affairs and investments, which it is happy to share, at a price. Furthermore, in a world ruled by one superpower, Israel could leverage its exceptional relations with the US to strengthen African and Asian leaders, confer on them some legitimacy or defend them. All of this, of course, while turning a blind eye to violations of international laws, conventions and human rights.
Moreover, Israel is the perfect refuge for Third World leaders seeking medical treatment and the dubious delights that Tel Aviv has to offer. It can also offer advanced weaponry and security equipment which has been field-tested on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. After all, who holds Israel to account? It even excuses its visitors’ anti-Semitism as long as there is money to be made and they are ready to stand by Israel’s side in the international arena.
Before travelling to the Middle East, Duterte said that he was going to meet Filipino workers in Israel and Jordan. There are around 25,000 in the former and double that in the Hashemite Kingdom. The Arab states have failed miserably in using such leverage with the Philippines for the benefit of the Palestinians; two million Filipinos work in the Gulf alone, for example, and remit an estimated $7.5 billion to their families back home.
Finally, let us not be deluded that Netanyahu is somehow better than Duterte, for the President of the Philippines has managed to bring peace to his country, while the Israeli leader makes every possible effort to thwart peace and continues to build illegal settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu has also introduced a despicable racist law that makes the indigenous people foreigners in their own land, and launched numerous military offensives against Palestinian civilians and neighbouring countries. Whether talking against anti-Semitism or in favour of peace, Israel definitely speaks with a forked tongue.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.