The Philippines' Israel Connection

by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 06 2015 11:50 AM | Updated as of Feb 06 2015 07:51 PM

Israel Deputy Chief of Mission Adam Levene. Photo: Israel Embassy

MANILA - Israel has so much to thank the Philippines for that it is offering its knowledge and expertise in sectors that could help boost the country’s standing in the world economy – from agriculture to jewelry and even technologies to unmask spies and terrorists.

In an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com, Embassy of Israel Deputy Chief of Mission Adam Levene said: “Israel has always had a positive connection to the Philippines. Filipinos need not have visas to go to Israel, out of gratitude to what happened. Filipinos will always be able to come for a pilgrimage at the Holy Land. The door will always be open.”

Levene said the Philippines had a big part in the history of Israel, from the time of the Holocaust up to the creation of their state.
Many Jewish families found home in the Philippines after narrowly escaping Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers during the Nazi tyranny in the 1930s.

According to the Philippine Embassy in Israel, then President Manuel L. Quezon reinforced the Commonwealth government’s open-door policy to accommodate the Jews who escaped from Europe between 1935 and 1941.

“President Manuel L. Quezon fully understood the crisis that the Jews were facing at that time,” the embassy said. Besides visas, Quezon also opened lands in Manila and Mindanao where the Jews started their lives anew.

Seven years later, under the administration of President Manuel Roxas, the Philippines’ vote would become the tie-breaker at the United Nations to separate Israel from Palestine.

“An interesting one, in both cases, it was President Manuel Quezon and President Manuel Roxas. Manuel is actually a Hebrew name, which means ‘God be with you’ or ‘with the help of God.’ It was very appropriate in both cases,” Levene said.

Levene said there was no “personal connection” then between the two nations, except that Filipinos always had their hearts on their sleeves.

“The context at the time was war, human rights was not even discussed. In the Philippines, they said that this is what we think is right, we are going to step forward and do something about it. It says something very special about who Filipinos are. For us, it’s not just a story about saving Jewish people. It’s a story about the identity of Filipinos,” he said.

THANK YOU, PHILIPPINES

To celebrate the almost one century of friendship, the Israel Embassy has launched a year-long campaign “Thank you, Philippines” to show the nation’s gratitude to Filipinos.

Levene said the friendship is very much alive until today.
Israel was one of the first countries to extend help in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda. More than 100 medical staff and hundreds of medical equipment were immediately dispatched.

“It was obvious that we will come and help… It wasn’t a question of: would we help? It’s how we can and what’s the best way to do it,” Levene said.

Remember how Filipina caregiver Rose Fostanes won X-Factor Israel?

“It’s also symbolic that the winner of X-Factor Israel is Rose Fostanes. Her story symbolized that. We have somebody from outside, of different religion, culture and language, on mainstream television and competition by popular vote. People voted for someone from outside. We usually support those we know. Here’s someone different, but everyone voted for her to win. It’s like an open door in a way between two nations,” Levene said.

The embassy will be bringing Fostanes back to the Philippines for a concert on February 24 as part of “Thank you, Philippines”.

OFWs IN ISRAEL

Israel is also home to many Filipinos.

“We’re definitely open, but we’re a small country… I can say that for most Filipinos, they go to Israel as good option. Work situation is respectful, they get a good salary, government and NGOs look after their rights. Rose is a good example of how they treat you as family and friend,” he said.

He said the system is built in such a way that Filipinos in Israel get medical insurance and other benefits. A caregiver gets between $1,200 to $2,000 a month, he said.

“It’s a respectable salary. NGOs also look after them. The system is there to make sure that things work properly,” he said.

Amid the political disputes Israel is facing especially in its borders, Levene assured the country is taking good care of Filipinos.

“Israel is one of the safest countries in the world… Our crime rate is very low. Yes, we have political issues, especially in the border areas. But for Filipinos in Israel, you would not feel anything. You will enjoy the beach, the mall. Personal safety is very high,” he said.

AGRICULTURAL COOPERATION

Israel has also opened its doors to Filipino students for its agro-studies program.

“The cooperation in agriculture between Israel and the Philippines has been there for a long time. But we think that in the last few years, there’s a lot more room to develop and expand the cooperation,” he said.

Interestingly, the richest 1% in Israel are in the agriculture industry, while the Philippines’ poorest of the poor are in agriculture.

“The Philippines has been growing rapidly, and getting bigger and needing more food. The balance is changing. The agriculture has to change as well in order to adopt to new needs. Climate change is also part of it,” he said.

He said the reason why agriculture in Israel has become the rich’s turf is because “agriculture is a business.” He said, “it’s not a matter of doing things wrong. It’s a matter of things being done over time and into the right direction.”

He said Israel can help the Philippines in the area of agro-technology. Israel invented the drip irrigation, which allows dry lands to produce multiple yields.

Israel also produces the highest amount of milk per cow in the world, according to Levene. “Definitely, there is room here where we can cooperate. We have big products for dairy in the region, in Vietnam and China, for example. Not only do we have technology, we also have the experience in the region to understand issues like tropical climate and so on.”

He also cited the booming jewelry industry in Israel.

“These are all areas where Israel, we feel [where] we have room for collaboration, innovation, technology, and education, as well. We can educate how to be innovative. We have the most start-ups in the world after the US,” he added.

HOMELAND SECURITY

Levene added Israel would also be happy to share its expertise when it comes to homeland security.

Israel, for one, is home to the world-renowned Mossad, Israel’s version of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. Images of Eli Cohen gathering information from Syrian officials come to mind when development in homeland security is discussed.

Europe has also reportedly been tapping Israel for its homeland security expertise. “From tracking online activity to cameras that see through walls, Israel's homeland security industry offers European states a range of options as they tackle the terrorists in their midst,” a report from ynetnews.com said.

Levene is mum about the coordination between the Philippines and Israel when it comes to homeland security, however.

“I would say that Israel has a very unique experience in a lot of different fields, connected to homeland security. It’s definitely in our interest to share information to good partners, friendly nations, and surely the Philippines in the same way,” he said.

He said the Philippines can tap almost everything in Israel’s fields of expertise.

He said Israel was once a poor nation that came to understand things “with no budget.” He said, “we have high-tech solutions… and as a nation, we are flexible. We base our projects on what’s actually needed.”

He said the Philippines “is going in the right direction” when it comes to securing its economy and politics.

“What we are trying to do is open discussions with the Philippine government, different bodies, whatever field of cooperation. To see what’s relevant for your needs. You define your needs. We’ll see where we can help you,” Levene said.