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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended a warm welcome to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday at the start of an official visit, despite being criticized for embracing a leader accused of human rights abuses in his deadly drug crackdown.
The two leaders oversaw the signing of three agreements in trade, science and care-giving. Netanyahu highlighted the countries' long friendship, how the Philippines took in Jewish refugees after World War II and was the only Asian nation to vote for Israel's establishment. He noted how in recent years Filipino health aides have assisted the elderly in Israel, including Netanyahu's own father.
"We remember our friends, and that friendship has blossomed over the years and especially over the last few years," Netanyahu told Duterte. "There has been a remarkable phenomenon in Israel where thousands and thousands of families have taken heart from the support given by Filipino caretakers for the elderly."
Duterte thanked Israel for hosting some 28,000 Filipino workers and for assisting his country in its times of need.
"We share the same passion for peace, we share the same passion for human beings but also we 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. And in this sense Israel can expect any help that the Philippines can extend to your country," he said at a joint appearance with Netanyahu.
The visit is the first by a Philippine president to Israel since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1957. Netanyahu has worked to cultivate allies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where many countries have historically shunned Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
But Netanyahu has come under fire for embracing Duterte, whose forces are accused of killing thousands in anti-drug raids since he took office in 2016. Duterte drew outrage that year when he compared his anti-drug campaign to the Holocaust, and himself to Hitler, saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. He later apologized.
More recently, he forcibly kissed a woman on stage and said there would be many rape cases in a Philippine city "if there were many beautiful women."
Official Philippine police tallies place the number of suspects killed in police-led anti-drug raids at more than 4,500 since Duterte took office. International human rights watchdogs have cited far higher death tolls. Duterte, a 73-year-old former government prosecutor, denies condoning extrajudicial killings but has openly threatened drug dealers with death.
He is scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Monday and later a monument commemorating the Philippines' rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.