Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is set to make an official visit to Israel next month, his government recently announced.
The September 2-5 trip, will be the first visit by a Filipino leader since diplomatic ties were established between the two countries in 1957.
Duterte and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss how to develop deeper ties on several issues, including counter-terrorism and security. Israel is a key weapons supplier to the Philippines, which is fighting Islamic terrorists and communist guerillas.In addition, the leaders will also likely speak about attempts to prevent drug-trafficking, the possibility of direct flights from Israel to the Philippines and agricultural cooperation
The Filipino leader is a highly controversial figure. Two years ago he sparked outrage after likening the Philippines’ deadly drug war to the Holocaust. He faced global condemnation for attempting to compare his crackdown on drugs with the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said. This was a particularly offensive comment, as the majority of Holocaust scholars agree that approximately 6 million Jews were murdered during Nazi rule. Duterte later retracted his comments and apologized to the Jewish community, saying that his remarks were aimed at those who were comparing him to Hitler. He also highlighted that the Philippines granted safe haven to more than 1,000 Jewish refugees who fled the Holocaust.
Duterte has praised Netanyahu in the past, “for his steadfastness in safeguarding Israel’s national interest from any element.”
The Philippine president will also meet with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, although Israeli human rights activists have pleaded that this meeting not take place. “Certainly, there is no place for a mass murderer and a person who supports rape, shooting women in their sexual organs and bombing schools to meet with Israel’s president,” said human rights attorney Eitay Mack. Philippine police claim they have killed more than 4,000 drugs suspects, with many others murdered by unknown killers. Rights groups allege the total dead in the campaign is more than 13,000.
Duterte is set to fly to Jordan after his visit to Israel and he is not thought to be meeting with any Palestinian Authority officials.