MANILA -- Why does Israel have a deep love for the Philippines?
According to Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz, the Philippines played a pivotal role in 2 significant events in Israel history – the rescue of more than a thousand Jews from Nazi Germany and the Philippines’ vote on the creation of the State of Israel in 1947.
Two past Philippine presidents – Manuel L. Quezon and Manuel Roxas – were behind those 2 decisions.
In the late 1930s, President Quezon opened the country's doors to Jewish refugees after the National Socialist German Workers' Party led by Adolf Hitler started putting millions of Jews in concentration camps.
Over 1,300 Jews from Germany and Austria - called Manilaners -escaped the war and found a haven in the Philippines through Quezon’s “open doors” policy.
According to Harpaz, Quezon was willing to give refuge for up to 10,000 Jews.
“There were 2 major decisions, historic decisions. One by President Manuel L. Quezon and one by Manuel Roxas. A few years after the decision of President Quezon to open the doors for Jews, it was 1939, he wanted to have 10,000 Jews but only 1,300 can escape from Europe,” he told ABS-CBN News.
A Times of Israel article earlier quoted Philippine ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial as saying that it was the US government that stymied Quezon’s move to save more Jews from the Nazis.
Instead of 10,000 refugees, the US government limited the flow to 1,000 refugees per year until the Japanese invasion of the Philippines ended the program.
Up to this day, the Philippines continues to reap the benefits of helping the Jews, with Filipino tourists being given visa-free entry to Israel for 90 days since 1969.
In 1947, the Philippines, under the administration of President Manuel Roxas, cast the tie-breaker vote at the UN to separate Israel from Palestine. The two countries established diplomatic ties 10 years later.
The Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in favor of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 creating the State of Israel.
The 33 countries that supported the resolution were Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian SSR, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, Ukrainian SSR, United States of America, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
“In 1947, the United Nations had to vote yes or no for a Jewish state. We needed a two-thirds majority. If we didn't get the two thirds majority, I wouldn't be sitting in front of you here today as an ambassador of Israel. The only country in Asia, the only country in Asia that voted yes was the Philippines under President Manuel Roxas. It’s something that we will always remember – President Quezon and President Roxas,” he said.
He noted that President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Israel in September 2018 was also historic since it was the first official visit by a Philippine president to the Holy Land. Duterte ended his visit to Israel by going to the Open Doors Monument, which was built by Israel in honor of the Philippines’ “open door” policy for Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
"The Philippines was a role model for other nations when most nations in the world shut down the doors for the Jews. Here in the Philippines was a little far away but was willing to receive the Jews and we don't take those things for granted. We have never forgotten to remember those that were a help during those very difficult and challenging time[s]," he said.