Philippines president apologizes to Jews after comparing himself to Hitler

The tough-on-crime head-of-state had vowed to kill as many drug addicts as the Nazis killed Jews during World War II.

Hoang Dinh Nam/AP/File
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reviews an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi during his two-day visit to Vietnam last month. Israel's Foreign Ministry said it's "unfortunate" that Mr. Duterte chose to invoke Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust in his bloody anti-crime war.

Public officials are frequently compared to Adolf Hitler by their opponents for supporting any policy that can be construed as authoritarian. But it’s rare for a politician to compare himself to the Nazi leader.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte took the even rarer step Sunday of apologizing to Jewish communities worldwide for likening his tough-on-crime campaign to the Holocaust.

“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews … there’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Mr. Duterte had said Friday, sparking outrage. (As many as 6 million Jews were killed during World War II, according to estimates cited by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

During a speech Sunday at a festival, broadcast live on television, Duterte apologized “profoundly and deeply” while insisting his original comments were made in response to the way critics have portrayed him.

“I would like to make it [known], here and now, that there was never an intention on my part to derogate the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered,” Duterte said.

A spokesman for Duterte had on Saturday said the politician’s controversial remarks were an “oblique deflection” of his being characterized as a mass murderer.

Since he took office three months ago, after campaigning on promises to wage a war on drugs, more than 3,100 people have been killed, most of them alleged drug users and dealers. The narcotics crackdown has prompted challenges from US President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

This is not the first time Duterte’s mouth has gotten him into trouble with the international community. Last month, US officials canceled a meeting between Duterte and Mr. Obama after Duterte made a foul-mouthed reference to Obama'a mother. The two leaders briefly met days afterward at a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But the policies and the man, who has been nicknamed “the Punisher,” remain popular among Filipinos, many of whom see the president’s past political performance as proof that his policies work, as The Christian Science Monitor’s correspondent Ralph Jennings reported from the Philippines in June:

When he took over as mayor of Davao, Duterte inherited a city that was caught in violent strife between leftist rebels and a government counterinsurgency campaign. Teen gangs fought in the streets over drug sales. You couldn’t make a mobile phone call outside at night without fear of someone snatching the phone. Davao was dubbed the murder capital of the Philippines.

It is a very different town now. Drug crimes have plummeted 75 percent since Duterte became mayor, says city spokesman Leo Villareal. Muggings and pickpocketing are rare, he adds, and leftists are no longer violent.

The most common drug, the methamphetamine strain called shabu, is no longer sold in the streets, locals say, and it’s safe to walk anywhere at night.

Duterte – who is accused of employing "death squads" as mayor, as The Washington Post reported – promised to end crime within six months of assuming the presidency, but he has since asked for another six months.

Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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