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Philippines, Israel, Palestine and Jews: A Bittersweet History of Expulsion, Refuge and Racism

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In late August, the first of over a hundred Filipino families scheduled for deportation from Israel was sent packing after a futile appeal.

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While several protests have tried to stop them, dozens of families of migrant workers of irregular status, most of them Filipina mothers and their children, have been arrested by the Israeli authorities since the start of the year. Hundreds more are expected to be deported.

The crime of these women was to give birth in the wrong place. Israeli law requires migrant workers to defer having children, among other restrictions, as a condition for maintaining their temporary status. Once they become mothers, their work permits cannot be renewed - while it is impossible for their children to acquire citizenship, as Israel has no birth citizenship process for the children of non-citizens.

According to the Philippines Consulate-General, of the 29,000 Filipinos living in Israel, the vast majority are domestic helpers, and are on temporary visas (25,000).

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These deportations coincided, somewhat painfully, with the 141st birthday anniversary of Manuel Quezon, the Philippines president who opened the country’s doors to Jewish refugees right before the outbreak of World War II. Following the first of the deportations, the Philippines’ foreign minister, Teodoro Locsin, promised senators that the film Quezon’s Game, detailing those efforts, would be broadcast in Israel.

He added that his apparently influential friends in the American Jewish diaspora would "crack the whip" - so that the Israeli media would feature the contributions of Filipino caregivers to Israeli society. Indeed, the word "caregiver," in Hebrew, has become nearly synonymous with "filipina."

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The situation is especially bitter for those who have cared for Israeli children and the elderly for years - while living far apart from their own families.

Yet the foreign minister’s invocation of Quezon’s humanitarianism is ironic. To the international community, Locsin represents Rodrigo Duterte’s government, which has presided over an unprecedented number of state-backed killings of alleged drug users, as well as journalists, clergy, and activists. And the irony doesn’t end there.

When he served as the Philippines’ ambassador to the United Nations, Locsin praised the policies of Nazi economic minister Hjalmar Schacht as a model for the Philippines - after Duterte compared himself favourably to Hitler.

Both incidents ruffled feathers in Germany, but did nothing to hinder closer relations between Duterte and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who treated him to the first state visit to Israel by a sitting Filipino president since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1957.

In other words, Israel is expelling Filipinas even as it embraces the Duterte regime. The Israeli government continues to sanction the sale of weapons to the Philippines National Police, a profoundly corrupt institution that is at the heart of the "drug war" which is in fact a war on the poor and an enfeebled political opposition.

What lies behind these transactional and selective appeals to historical memory? The expulsions of Filipinos exist at the intersection of entangled histories that shed light on contemporary relations between Israel, the Philippines, and the Jewish community.

"Why turn our backs on the race that produced Jesus Christ?"

In the late 1930s, Quezon’s transitional government, known as the Commonwealth, facilitated the entry of over a thousand Jews, sometimes acting against the wishes of the United States, the Philippines’ colonial master.

The saga features a cast of characters including Dwight Eisenhower and Quezon himself, working with the U.S. State Department, the Manila Jewish Refugee Committee, a small but vibrant local Jewish community that had struck roots in the Spanish colonial era, and thrived in an environment of relative tolerance.

At a time when most western democracies refused them refuge, Filipinos are said to have welcomed the........

© Haaretz