Why are no Israeli officials refusing to meet with Duterte?

Israel has reached a moral low point as it hosts the Philippines’ mass-murdering president and sells arms to his genocidal regime.

By Eitay Mack

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, on September 3, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, on September 3, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Months after Israel marked 70 years since its founding, the country is staging one of its lowest points yet. Israel is holding its citizens and institutions in contempt this week, by groveling to one of the craziest and most dangerous leaders in the world.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte – who has murdered an estimated 12,000 people since he was elected president in June 2016, expressed support for rape, ordered soldiers to shoot female communist rebels in the vagina, threatened to bomb indigenous schools, and boasted about killing people – is being ceremoniously received on an official state visit.

Duterte arrived in Israel on Sunday with a large delegation of army and police officers to sign arms deals and coordinate training with Israeli security forces. Such deals will presumably enable him to continue his slaughter campaign in the Philippines — part of his “war on drugs” — and earn him legitimacy from the only Western country willing to host him, which just happens to be the United States’ closest ally. As far as Duterte is concerned, dinner at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence paves the way for dinner at the White House.

The Israeli Defense Ministry, which systematically lies to the public, the media, and the courts about security-related exports, can be expected to hide the truth about the arms deals that are to be signed during Duterte’s visit. Israeli citizens who want to know what is happening in their name in the Philippines will probably have better luck on the Facebook pages of Philippine government and law enforcement officials who brag of the relationship.

In the past two years, Duterete’s security forces have purchased significant amounts of Tavor assault rifles, Galil and Gilboa rifles, Negev machine guns, and Masada pistols. The firearms purchases are set to assist Duterte in keeping his murderous promises. During his presidential campaign, he pledged to kill 100,000 people during his first six months in office, and in October 2016, he said people can expect 20,000 to 30,000 more casualties.

“Yad Vashem,” Israel’s Holocaust memorial center, hosted Duterte on Monday, even though he is a mass murderer who has threatened to implement martial law, and who has compared himself to Hitler. The tour facilitators at “Yad Vashem” will explain the rise of the totalitarian government in Germany, the dehumanization of Jews, and the extermination process to him. Absurdly, the remembrance center rejected a request to cancel Duterte’s visit, claiming that they are merely obeying the orders of the Foreign Ministry. Yet there is no legal prohibition on defying the protocol . Is it possible that not a single employee at “Yad Vashem” has the conscience to refuse to cooperate with this shameful visit?

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte meets with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the presidential residence in Jerusalem on September 4, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte meets with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the presidential residence in Jerusalem on September 4, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Similarly, President Reuven Rivlin is also set to meet with Duterte. He, too, refused to call off the meeting, claiming that he is obeying the orders of the Foreign Ministry. It is unfortunate that Rivlin has not learned from his embarrassing meeting with Myanmar’s military chief of staff in September 2015. A special UN fact-finding mission recently accused Myanmar’s military of genocide against the Rohingya, the country’s Muslim minority group.

The IDF, too, will host Duterte’s delegation on its bases, although it is safe to assume that in order not to get its hands too dirty, the army will leave the arms sales and the training side of things to the private companies of its retired generals.

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, on September 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, on September 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Duterte needs psychiatric assessment, Duterte knows very well what he is doing. He is taking advantage of the Philippine’s geopolitical importance to the U.S. and the EU as part of Washington’s China containment policy, which means the international community has little interest in confronting him.

Duterte is also not a rookie. He not only poses danger to Philippine citizens, but also world peace. There should be zero doubt that the international community standing idly by as a national leader slaughters and calls for the death of specific populations legitimizes other murderous leaders. Duterte’s method for solving social and political problems, through social engineering and mass murders, is not the first such case in history. The international community staying silent or only whispering statements of condemnation is not new either.

One can assume that this odd visit to Israel will be covered in the media abroad. Of particular interest are the arms deals, especially since the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor announced in February that she is opening preliminary examinations into suspected crimes against humanity committed as part of Duterte’s “war on drugs.”

In light of the extraordinary public and media criticism in Israel over Duterte’s visit (the Israeli public is usually indifferent to such criticism), the visit might drive Israeli citizens to take a hard look in the mirror and notice the moral failures of its own government. Duterte’s visit has the potential to highlight how rotten and morally bankrupt each state institution he visits has become. It is no coincidence that the foreign minister does not have a single press conference scheduled during Duterte’s four-day visit.

Even though Netanyahu persuaded the Philippines to vote in Israel’s favor at UNESCO in 2017, Duterte is unlikely to betray his own interests — maneuvering between the U.S. and China, and avoiding international sanctions — and become an automatic supporter of Israel in international forums. It is also unlikely that he will move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

All of which begs the question: why is Netanyahu’s government taking such a great risk with this visit? The answer is that Duterte’s visit attests to Israel’s ongoing failure at convincing the world of its just ways. Parts of Israeli society may buy into the idea that IDF soldiers and settlers are the most moral in the world, but most of the rest of the world does not buy it, and is even disgusted with Israel’s waves of violence and power drunkenness.

If these are the kinds of leaders that Israel manages to bring for official visits in 2018, it seems that the picture is not as rosy as the government is trying to paint it.

Itay Mack is a human rights activists and lawyer who works to increase transparency and public scrutiny of Israel’s security imports. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local. Read it here.