Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is planning a visit to Israel in September, with talks to coordinate the meeting taking place between the two countries.
Duterte is considered one of the world’s most controversial leaders, his presidency marred by accusations of slaughtering citizens, comparing himself to Adolf Hitler and calling former U.S. President Barack Obama a "son of a bitch."
Plans for the visit began forming a year ago. A senior official told Haaretz at the time Duterte had expressed will to visit Jerusalem and received a generally positive response. The Philippines is also considered a leading candidate among countries to potentially move their embassy to Jerusalem.
Israel is hoping the visit will help establish direct flights between the two countries, as well as promote mutual financial investments.
In October 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Duterte as part of his efforts to recruit countries to vote against a UNESCO resolution regarding Jerusalem. A Foreign Ministry official said at the time the two had a good talk.
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Relations between Israel and the Philippines have tightened during Duterte’s term. His administration stood beside Israel on several issues and abstained from voting in international institutes. Israel has also sold a substantial amount of arms to the Southeast Asian Republic, and the two maintain strong security relations as well.
In 2016, Duterte compared his campaign against drug dealers to the Holocaust, and said he would kill dealers like Hitler killed Jews. "Critics compare me to Hitler’s cousin," he said. "Hitler massacred 3 million Jews … there’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them."
"If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…," he said, pausing and pointing to himself.
Duterte later apologized for his words, and followed up with a visit to a synagogue in the Filipino city of Makati during a cleberation of the Jewish New Year.
Duterte also met with U.S. President Donald Trump last November, in a conversation dubbed "short, but warm and friendly" by Duterte’s spokesperson.
The Filipino President recently courted controversy when during a speech he doubted the validity of the Bible and the story of creation.
“Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is then really stupid,” Mr. Duterte said. “How can you rationalize a God? Do you believe?”
In early June, while speaking to Filipino foreign workers in South Korea, Duterte drew sharp criticsm from his opposition and rights’ activists when he called two women to the stage and prompted one to kiss him on the lips.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is also slated to visit Israel on July 19. The visit was coordinated at a meeting of national security advisers of the Visegrad group, which was also attended by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. The Visegrad group, also known as V4, includes Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.