JERUSALEM - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, on Tuesday praised his country’s close security ties with Israel as dozens protested Israeli arms sales to his government.
At a meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Duterte said he considers Israel a key strategic partner and weapons supplier.
“In terms of military equipment, particularly intelligence gathering, we only have one country to buy from them, that is my order specifically: Israel,” he said.
He called the United States a “good friend,” but suggested that the U.S., as well as potential suppliers China and Germany, might also be “listening.” Duterte has said he suspects the U.S. and Chinese of carrying out surveillance against him, though he has offered no evidence.
Duterte, the first Philippine president to visit Israel, is known for his profane outbursts and has been accused of committing human rights abuses in his deadly campaign against illegal drugs.
In Israel, he has received a generally warm welcome from the government. But outside the Israeli presidential residence, dozens of people gathered to protest the visit. Waving Israeli flags and blowing whistles, they chanted “shame, shame, shame. We will not be silent and we will not agree to the selling of weapons.”
Israel has sold assault rifles to the Philippines national police force in the past and Israeli media have reported that a new arms deal will be signed while Duterte is in town. Israel’s Defense Ministry said it does not comment on arms sales.
Human rights lawyer Eitay Mack said he was protesting because he does not want Israeli weapons to be sold to “this kind of regime.”
“I am sure that sooner or later the U.N. and the international community will announce that what Duterte is doing, is being responsible for crimes against humanity,” he said.
A U.S. sale of thousands of assault rifles to the Philippines was canceled in 2016 due to objections in Congress to supplying weapons to Duterte’s government.
In 2016, Duterte was forced to apologize after comparing himself favorably to Adolf Hitler. On Monday, he paid a solemn visit to Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and branded the Nazi leader “insane” as he lamented the genocide of 6 million Jews.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Hitler “the devil on earth.”
“And probably you have realized yesterday the feelings, when you visited (the) museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, to really feel the atmosphere and to feel the feelings of all the people that were part of this disaster,” Rivlin said.