University University Feature

Ties forged by time: On Israel-PH foreign relations

From 1937 to 1941, the Philippines welcomed Jewish refugees seeking safety from the persecution of the Nazi regime in Germany. Though then-President Manuel Quezon had to maneuver through several personal and political challenges to enact an open door policy, his efforts led to the successful resettlement of over 1,000 Jews in the country. The subsequent outbreak of World War II prevented more refugees from coming to the Philippines.

Several decades later, Quezon’s act of aid continues to be remembered by both countries, according to Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz. The diplomat delivered a talk on Israel-Philippines foreign relations at the University’s Learning Commons last October 24. 

A helping hand 

“Even though we are very far away [geographically], we are close in special ways,” Harpaz said as he began sharing stories about Israel’s relationship with the Philippines. Apart from taking in Jewish refugees, the Philippines was also the only Asian country to vote in favor of United Nations Resolution 181 in November of 1947, which allowed for the creation of the state of Israel in the succeeding year. This show of support later led to the signing of several bilateral agreements for counter-terrorism, tourism, agriculture, and technological development over the years.

A more recent manifestation of strong ties between the two countries happened in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. “Israel conducted in Leyte and Cebu our biggest ever [overseas] relief operation in history,” recounted Harpaz. Soldiers, nurses, and doctors from the Israeli Defense Forces were deployed to help victims of the calamity, which is considered as one of the deadliest storms to ever hit the Philippines. They also set up a field hospital in Cebu, where several babies were born and were reportedly named Israel out of gratitude for the country’s timely aid.

On future initiatives

In the coming years, Harpaz hopes that the relationship between the two countries will continue to flourish. He shared that Israel is hoping to welcome overseas Filipino workers to help bolster its tourism industry, which is expecting up to 4.2 million tourists per year. “The decision that was [made] right after President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s [state visit] was to open Israel for 2,000 overseas workers in tourism based on agreements between governments. The first country that we signed an agreement with was the Philippines,” Harpaz continued.

Helping foster a culture that supports innovation in the Philippines is another objective for Israel, whose roster of successful start-ups includes navigation app Waze and enterprise cybersecurity firm Cybereason. As Harpaz stated, “I strongly believe that the Philippines can become a cluster of innovation, start-ups, and technology.” He later added that they are working in conjunction with the Philippines to develop initiatives that can provide support through government-backed incentives for start-ups.

Maxine Ferrer

By Maxine Ferrer

Bea Francia

By Bea Francia

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