By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has said he would be “happy to slaughter” his country’s drugs dealers on the scale of the Nazis’ Jewish genocide, on Monday laid a wreath to commemorate the Holocaust dead in Jerusalem.
Duterte is paying an official four-day visit to Israel, the first by a Philippines president, and officials on both sides have tried to play down his record of jarring invective.
Standing alongside his daughter at the solemn Yad Vashem ceremony, Duterte kindled the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance before laying a wreath. Both then paused for a moment of reflection as Sara clasped her hands tightly.
Reading from what he wrote in the visitors’ book after the ceremony, Duterte said: “Never again.”
“May the world learn the lesson of this horrific and benighted period of human history. May the hearts of peoples around the world remain ever open. And may the minds of all men and women learn to work together towards providing a safe haven for all who are being persecuted.”
Israel’s Government Press Office said most of the visit would be closed to the media, an apparent precaution against faux pas by a president whose two-fisted crime-fighting tactics and rhetoric have raised hackles at home and abroad.
In 2016, in a bungled reference to an opponent’s remark that his rise could be like that of Adolf Hitler, Duterte said he himself would be “happy to slaughter” drug addicts in a similar vein to the Nazi leader’s mass murder of Jews.
Tourism, labour and defence deals were signed earlier when Duterte met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his office.
“We share the same passion for peace. We share the same passion for human beings. But we also share the same passion of not allowing a family to be destroyed by those who (have) corrupt ideologies,” Duterte said, in an apparent reference to drug dealers.
Duterte has apologised for likening his war on drug dealers with the Holocaust but he has been dogged by accusations from activists that thousands of killings in his ongoing war on drugs were executions, accusations he rejects. He has also been rebuked by women’s groups for remarks that make light of rape.
In June, Duterte called God “stupid” and he has lashed out repeatedly at the Catholic church, deeming it hypocritical. His visit will include sight-seeing in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, which houses major Christian, Jewish and Muslim shrines.
After arriving in Israel on Sunday, Duterte met with hundreds of Filipinos living in the country who work mainly as care-givers and received a rousing reception, Israeli media said. Between 24,000-28,000 work as carers for the elderly.
On Wednesday, he departs for neighbouring Jordan.
(Editing by Peter Graff)