President Rodrigo Duterte, who has apologized for comparing himself to Adolf Hitler, visited Israel’s Holocaust memorial on Monday and said he hoped the world learned lessons “from the horrific period in history.”
The President held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the second of a four-day visit to Israel, with defense deals and other areas of cooperation on the agenda.
All visiting leaders pay their respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, usually without much fanfare.
But Duterte’s Hitler remarks and other controversial actions, including his internationally condemned drug crackdown that has killed thousands, put his visit in the spotlight.
He spoke twice during his visit to the solemn memorial perched high in Jerusalem’s hills, saying he “could not imagine a country obeying an insane leader.”
“And I could not ever fathom the spectacle of a human being going into a killing spree… I would like to say that we are one in saying that this will not happen again.”
Duterte later read out what he wrote in the memorial’s guest book, saying “may the world learn the lessons of this horrific and benighted period of human history.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also gave a brief lecture on Hitler to Duterte when they met on Tuesday.
“Hitler was actually representing the devil himself,” Rivlin said when the two men met at his Jerusalem office. “He was the devil on earth.”
Rivlin went on to say that Duterte’s visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday must have illustrated to him the sensitivity surrounding any reference to Adolf Hitler.
“Probably you have realized yesterday the feelings when you have visited the museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, to really feel the atmosphere, to feel the feelings of all the people that were part of this disaster,” said Rivlin, whose position is mainly ceremonial.
Duterte appeared to be listening attentively during Rivlin’s brief comments. He later spoke about trade and cooperation with Israel.
On Wednesday, Duterte will inaugurate a memorial near Tel Aviv commemorating the Philippines’ acceptance of 1,300 Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
Duterte’s visit to Yad Vashem led to criticism even before it took place, mainly due to comments in 2016 comparing himself to Adolf Hitler.
“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there are 3 million drug addicts [in the Philippines]. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said then.
Historians say 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.
Duterte later apologized and said the comments were aimed at critics who had likened him to the Nazi leader.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an editorial headlined “A Hitler admirer at Yad Vashem,” while left-wing politicians questioned why Netanyahu would welcome Duterte with open arms.
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].”
Israel’s government focused on what it sees as the positive aspects of Duterte’s visit, the first by a Philippine leader in more than 60 years of diplomatic ties.
Netanyahu noted the Philippines’ support for Israel at the United Nations and said his father had been cared for by a Filipino in his later years, as is the case with many elderly Israelis.
Duterte, speaking alongside Netanyahu ahead of their lunch, said they “share the same passion for peace.”
“But we also 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.
He thanked Israel for supplying him with unspecified defense equipment that was “critical” in “winning the war”—presumably a reference to his government’s battle against jihadists in the city of Marawi last year.
Netanyahu is always on the lookout for allies who will support Israel in international forums, where the country often faces criticism over its occupation of Palestinian territory.
In recent months, he has found common cause with a number of nationalist leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
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.
Beyond that, the country is an important provider of labor to Israel, where some 28,000 Filipinos live including many working as care providers for the elderly.
On Monday, the two countries signed agreements related to Filipino caregivers, scientific cooperation, and bilateral investments.
Immediately after Duterte’s arrival on Sunday night, he revived one of his previous foul-mouthed remarks that have caused anger, saying he was sorry for calling former US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore.”
Duterte lobbed the insult in 2016 in response to steady criticism from the United States over his violent drug crackdown.
“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,” Duterte said Sunday while speaking to Filipinos in Israel.
On Wednesday, Duterte heads to Jordan, where he is expected to meet King Abdullah II.