A President who slams foreign countries and multilateral institutions for commenting negatively on the state of affairs of his or her country is an expected reaction. The actions of that President may be right or wrong, but to react with outrage over critiques is justifiable.
He or she, not the outside critics, was given the mandate to lead the country and his or her people. And he or she has the absolute right to defend leadership decisions against outside criticisms. In our case, Mr. Duterte has the absolute right to speak out against the governments and the foreign institutions that have spoken with alarm over his war on drugs.
A leader is criticized. That leader reacts. That is par for the course.
But to invoke Hitler and the mass annihilation of the Jews? Mr. Duterte crossed the line there. That’s because of this: it is not who we are as a people.
One sliver of light in the history of the Jewish diasporas, in case we do not remember this great leadership decision for humanity, was President Quezon’s directive to open the country to the fleeing Jews who might want to resettle here. Not all countries then opened their borders to the Jews. It was the peak of a horrific anti-Semitism, with a lunatic and a fascist demagogue leading the call for the mass persecution of the world Jewry. That lunatic, Hitler, would later engage in the worst genocide ever recorded in history against a particular race. And humanity, after that, was never the same again.
And humanity, as a general rule, shunned any and all references to Hitler, specifically in public forums, after that dark chapter in human history. Except for some closet fascists in countries across the globe and the skinheads in the US and some European countries, the “H” word is treated as a terrible, unspeakable word. Far-right leaders of political parties in Europe adore Hitler, sure, but there is no public acknowledgement of that adoration. Only those from the fringes portray Hitler in a positive light. The “H” word has come to mean the absolute of evil. Remember the outcry from Republican leaders after Donald Trump tried to malign the Star of David?
A few Jewish families resettled here after the Quezon invitation. Most left after the fall of fascism for North America and Europe. But some have stayed put to engage in business and enrich the cultural landscape. Those who stayed behind and assimilated eminently proved that Jews are not the stereotypes we imagined in Shylock. The world Jewry, with its long and clear memory, has not forgotten the gesture of President Quezon and our full embrace of the Jews when it was not fashionable to do so.
The invocation of the “H” word and the slaughter of 6 million Jews mostly in gas chambers were unnecessary and tasteless. Again, because there is only one reason for that and it is not even about politics or economics. It is not who we are as a people. We are better than that. When the fate of one persecuted race confronts us, we embrace the persecuted and we have proven that under the most trying of times. Like the precedent set by President Quezon.
And we have to respect the Jews. Whether we love them or we hate them, it does not matter. There is always a quiet repository of respect for the Jewish race especially from people like us who have been reared in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
I will throw in the perfect question, the usual response on why the Jews command outsized respect and why no one should invoke their race in vain. Who gave the world Jesus Christ, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein? Or, to use a contemporary reference, who gave us the guy behind Facebook? Or, the long parade of names that chaired the most important economic institution in the world – the Federal Reserve? Or Trotsky, Chomsky and the long line of theoreticians, professors and ideologues who have influenced global discourse like no other ?
No wonder a crass, semi-illiterate megalomaniac like Hitler – who was a failure in everything he did before he found an audience for his fascist voice – loathed and envied the Jews and wanted to exterminate that amazing race.
There is a new book on Hitler and it is an interesting read.
Like the “ Wandering Jews “ before us, we are now the race that is creating a new global diaspora. The reason is different, of course, as we are a people on the move and in search of opportunities. But because it is us who are creating the new diasporas, we are always – as a people – hoping and praying for welcoming host countries.
For that reason alone, for that pragmatic reason alone, we don’t want our leadership to slight peoples, nations and creeds.