In exchange for a mess of pottage – abstaining or supporting Israel in a few UN votes – a controversial leader has won a warm embrace from Israel. In the process, he has also won public absolution for his anti-Semitic remarks.
Just a few days after he declared that rape happens wherever there are “beautiful women,” Israel rolled out the red carpet on Sunday for the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who is famous for his dubious comments. He is here on an official visit until Wednesday.
Duterte has been accused of human rights violations in his own country under the cover of his war on drugs and organized crime, which has presumably included “social cleansing” operations and the murder of thousands of people without a trial. But he will have lunch with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and be hosted by President Reuven Rivlin the following day.
The man who compared himself to Hitler, no less, boasting that he’d be happy to slaughter each and every one of the millions of drug addicts in the Philippines, will, as is usual on such visits, tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center, and also a memorial in honor of Filipinos who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
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Behind the scenes, more secretive events will take place, which hold the potential for great financial profit not just for government companies involved in arms exports, but also for private businessmen. There will be arms exhibitions for marketing purposes, in line with the close trade relations between the two countries, and the Israeli company Ratio Oil Explorations will get its license to explore for oil in the Philippines signed.
The economic interests that legitimize this moral embarrassment are also linked to Netanyahu’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. This, for instance, is how Netanyahu has acted in his relationship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Israel has never been choosy in its international relations. In fact, it has an impressive record of relations with dubious regimes and leaders, and its weapons sales to the very worst regimes have been previously reported.
It’s hard to say that Duterte – a friend of U.S. President Donald Trump who has also been welcomed in other countries – is worse than others with whom Israel has maintained official or secret ties. Yet this time, too, the government doesn’t seem to have agonized over the question of whether Israel should go out of its way to host a man like Duterte with all the trappings of respect.
Nevertheless, the Israeli public has the right to protest the fact that in the name of a desire to legitimize the occupation and a chance to open additional embassies in Jerusalem, as well as for the sake of opportunities for arms deals and defense contracts for both defense industries and private businessmen, the government is willing to ignore the character of the leaders or regimes with which it hooks up.
Under the shadow of Duterte’s visit, Israel must disclose the nature and scope of its arms trade with countries accused of human rights violations. At the least, this issue deserves a suitable public debate. The president of the Philippines isn’t a wanted guest here, and his visit is a shameful diplomatic stain.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.