Israel provides visa-free access to Filipinos who want to visit the “Holy Land,” an arrangement forged in history and made possible by Filipinos’ open door policy.
An act of Filipino hospitality, at a time the Jewish people needed it most, earned the gratitude of Israel, which now shows it by welcoming Filipino pilgrims, tourists and even skilled workers, according to Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Effie Ben-Matityau.
Ben-Matityau said the moral courage shown by the late Commonwealth president Manuel Quezon and the Filipino people in the 1930s was not forgotten by the Israeli people.
“It is a moral victory for the Philippines,” said Ben Matityau, referring to the time Quezon opened the Philippines to Jews fleeing the holocaust perpetuated by the Nazi in Europe. Around six million Jews died at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945.
Filipinos condemned the holocaust, and Quezon declared the Philippines open for Jewish survivors seeking refuge. Ben-Matityau said records showed that Quezon planned to welcome as many as 170,000 Jews and initially issued 10,000 visas, with the help of American High Commissioner Paul McNutt, Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower, American Jewish businessman Herbert Frieder and his brothers.
Eisenhower, an aide of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, later became the 34th president of the US.
Nearly 1,300 Jews mostly from Austria and Germany made it to the Philippines, including two young women met by Judge Simplicio Sempio del Rosario on a ship leaving Germany. Simplicio, the late grandfather of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, adopted the two women and gave them jobs in Manila.
These were among the stories shared by Ben-Matityau when he visited The Standard recently to remind the paper’s editors of the strong friendship between the Philippines and Israel spanning more than 80 years.
He said that in 1947, the Philippines led by then president Manuel Roxas, was the only Asian country that voted in favor of United Nations Resolution 181, creating the state of Israel. That was a crucial vote that broke the tie in favor of Israel’s statehood. Ben-Matityau said the two “Manuels” of the Philippines were among those responsible for the close bond between the two countries.
Israel and the Philippines established full diplomatic relationships in 1957 and signed a treaty of friendship in 1958. The Philippines established an embassy in Tel-Aviv and Israel opened an embassy in Manila in 1962.
Israel is now one of the few rich countries, along with Singapore and Hong Kong that do not require Filipinos to obtain a visa prior to travel. Israelis can also visit the Philippines visa-free for up to 59 days.
Some 15,000 Filipinos visit Israel mostly for pilgrimage each year, while nearly the same number of Israelis, including young backpackers, tour the Philippines, according to Ben-Matityau. Some 30,000 Filipinos work in Israel, most of them as caregivers, he said, but the number could change, depending on how many really obtained work visas.
Philippine passport holders are interviewed at the port of entry in Israel and can stay for up to 90 days as tourists, as long as their passports are valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, they have confirmed round trip tickets with onward flight, confirmed hotel reservation before departure, sufficient pocket money worth at least $2,000 and a letter of invitation from the sponsoring establishment or tourist agency.
Ben-Matityau recalled that on several occasions, he met descendants of Jewish refugees in Manila, an evidence that the open-door policy of Quezon saved lives. Today, Israeli diplomats pay their respects to Quezon by visiting the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City.
Israel also built the Open Doors monument at the Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon Lezion in 2009, in honor of Quezon and the Filipino people. One of the holocaust survivors who made it to Manila, Frank Ephraim, also wrote a book about his experience, titled ‘Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror’.
Ben-Matityau said Israel and the Philippines have become good friends over the years. He said Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, has trained around 3,000 Filipinos in agriculture. These Filipino scholars formed the Shalom Club of the Philippines to share their knowledge with other Filipinos and promote Israel’s modern farm technology.
Ben-Matityau cited opportunities for stronger trade and economic relations between the two countries. “Tourism is an opportunity for growth,” he said, noting that only 15,000 Israelis visit the Philippines each year, or just a tenth of 150,000 Israelis who tour Thailand.
Other areas of cooperation are agriculture and information technology, with Tel Aviv being a major IT hub in the world. Ben-Matityau said popular mobile apps such as Viber and Waze were developed in Israel.
He said Israeli business process outsourcing companies were also looking at the Philippines, which had gained prominence as a call center capital.
Ben-Matityau said Israel welcomes Filipinos, because at one time, the Philippines, led by Quezon, opened its door to the Jews when only a few others did.
In welcoming the Jews in the 1930s, Quezon himself was quoted as saying: “It is my hope, and indeed my expectation, that the people of the Philippines will have in the future every reason to be glad that when the time of need came, their country was willing to extend a hand of welcome.”
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