On November 29, the Philippines celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations with Israel in a solemn ceremony at the Open Doors Monument in Holocaust Memorial Park, Risho LeZion, Tel Aviv. Philippine Ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial and Risho LeZion Mayor Dov Zur led the ceremony.
Both diplomats laid wreaths at the monument, a solemn gesture to honor those who gave their lives in the Second World War. The ceremony was a somber reminder of the hardships both countries endured in the face of oppression and the friendship that was forged in the fires of war.
Welcoming the Jewish People
In the early days of World War II, Israel faced unprecedented persecution and terror, leading to the diaspora of around 70,000 Jewish people from Europe. In response, then-President Manuel Quezon issued 30,000 visas to the victims of war.
Ambassador Imperial said, “It was a time when our moral compass pointed in the right direction when human compassion and hope prevailed over hate and prejudice.”
Although the Philippines were only able to welcome 1,300 Jews to the country before the Japanese invasion, the Filipino people showed that legendary warmth and hospitality they are known for.
In 1947, UN Resolution 181 sought to create the State of Israel, a move that was wholly supported by the Philippines. At the ceremony, Risho LeZion Mayor Dov Zur cited the Philippines’ historic vote in favor of the establishment of the state of Israel; and the mutual humanitarian commitment both countries continue to this day.
Also present at the ceremony was Margot Pins Kestenbaum, a Holocaust survivor who fled to the Philippines from Germany in 1938 with her family. Margot is one of the proponents of recognizing the Philippines’ “life-saving actions” during the war.
Citing the presence of Kestenbaum and other Holocaust survivors, Mayor Dov Zur stated, “Each [of these survivors] represents an act of friendship…that signifies the victory of human compassion against human horror.”
The diplomatic relationship between the two countries was formalized with the Treaty of Friendship on February 26, 1958, with the opening of embassies in both countries in 1967.
Continuing Mutual Prosperity
As of 2017, the Philippines plays host to some Jewish families and Israeli business owners, with Metro Manila housing the country’s only synagogue, Beth Yaacov, as well as the local Chabad House.
For its part, Israel has provided the Philippines with continuous economic trade opportunities, as well as hosting around 50,000 Filipino workers in Israel. The Israeli Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines fosters trade and cultural relations between the two countries, working tirelessly to expand Israeli-Filipino partnerships across different industries.