Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Trump flunks the Holocaust. Duterte proves it.

Philippines' president-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a press conference in Davao City, in southern island of Mindanao on May 26, 2016. Explosive incoming Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has launched a series of obscenity-filled attacks on the Catholic Church, branding local bishops corrupt "sons of whores" who are to be blamed for the nation's fast-growing population. / AFP / MANMAN DEJETO (Photo credit should read MANMAN

Well, that didn’t last long.

Last week,I gave Donald Trump a tentative kudos on his speech at the Yom Ha Shoah commemoration at the Capitol.

I believed that, with his words, he had pushed the reset button on his relationship with Holocaust memory and history.

Among the things that he said at that ceremony: “We will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again.”

Trump was telling the truth.

When it comes to evil, he has not been silent.

To the contrary: he has welcomed evil wholeheartedly.

I am referring to Trump’s outreach to the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, who is on the short list for the “most murderous dictator of the year” award.

Trump has invited Duterte to the White House — an invitation that Duterte has thus far rejected.

To quote Trump’s own words (used in a different context): Duterte is a “bad hombre.”

In the name of law and order, Duterte has initiated a reign of terror which mirrors the worst memories of a bygone era.

Who is Duterte’s role model?

Last September, Duterte declared: “Hitler massacred three million Jews.”

(Um, three million Jews, Rodrigo?)

“Now there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

You have heard the phrase “a war on drugs.” Duterte takes that rhetorical flourish literally.

As of January, according to some reports, the Philippine president’s campaign of violence against both drug dealers and users has resulted in more than 2,200 deaths, 44,000 arrests, and more than 1 million people surrendering to authorities.

Amnesty International thinks that the 2,200 figure is too low.

They estimate that more than 7,000 people have died, most of whom at the hands of vigilante death squads.

The images:

  • Bloody bodies lying in the streets, or thrown onto piles of garbage.
  • People abducted by paramilitaries in broad daylight. “Throw them in the ocean or the quarry. Make it clean. Make sure there are no traces of the bodies,” said Duterte.
  • Morgues in which the dead are stacked on top of one another.
  • Inhumanely crowded prisons in which men are forced to sleep on top of one another.

To Jewish ears, these reports should sound gruesomely familiar.

But, shouldn’t the United States reach out to Duterte, especially in light of his support for American diplomatic pressure on North Korea?

We might want to ask: What does Duterte really think of the United States?

  • One of his campaign promises was to end joint military drills with the United States.
  • He wants to reorient the Philippines away from Washington and toward Beijing.
  • He has called the American ambassador to the Philippines a “gay son of a bitch.”

A great guy.

Back to Trump and his relationship with the Holocaust.

  • If Trump had toured the US Holocaust Memorial Museum…
  • If Trump had seen exhibits detailing the Nad arrest of “enemies of the state” …
  • If Trump had seen photographs of piles of bodies stacked up upon each other like firewood…
  • If Trump had listened carefully to the oral testimony of (his Republican presidential predecessor) General Dwight D. Eisenhower upon the liberation of Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald:  “The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering…”
  • If Trump had connected the moral dots, to compare those images to Duterte’s grotesque policies….

Those Jews (I include myself) who were impressed by Trump’s eloquence at the recent Holocaust memorial program might want to think again.

This president, above all else, admires strength, aggression — even brutality.

There is a growing, consensus that Trump’s overture to Duterte is beyond the pale.

How large a consensus?

The American president seems inclined to conflate strong leadership with the extra-legal or even inhumane conduct of state affairs. This is an unsettling pattern that we ignore at our own peril. Duterte’s invitation to the White House was an abhorrent disgrace…

It is one thing to sacrifice American values upon the altar of “realism,” but expressing admiration for and rehabilitating butchers like Duterte is indefensible.

If Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte crosses the threshold of the White House at Trump’s invitation, it will forever taint Trump’s presidency.

That is not from the New York Times.

No. That quote comes from Noah Rothman, writing in Commentary magazine — hardly a liberal magazine.

I admire Commentary for breaking the usual Republican ranks.

Who will join them?

Who, a week after Yom Ha Shoah, will scream?


About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • Authoritariansof a feather will surely flock together.

    And will be happy to flock anyone who gets in their way.

    That being said, as much a duly elected fascist as he is, at least Duterte can see one real problem in the Philippines– over population– and can point his finger at a primary source for it.

  • Sorry, but the Pope said to find a solution to the North Korea problem OTHER THAN getting into a big war.
    That means talking to people like Duterte who, like it or not Rabbi Salkin, is the leader of the Philippines. (We all wish it was somebody nicer. It ain’t.)

    Trump has done his due diligence on the Holocaust remembrance. Period.

    It’s time to move on — and if some people can’t or won’t do so, then Trump himself must move on, because North Korea doesn’t give a hoot about the Holocaust or its lessons.
    Trump must do whatever’s necessary, and talk to whomever’s necessary. The End.

  • Trump doesn’t wish it was someone nicer. He has praised Duterte in the past, rendering this line of defense moot.

    Also, Duterte has already publicly told Trump how to avoid starting World War III: back up off Kim and stop the saber-rattling.

  • Regarding the invitation to Duterte, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch has a quote that also handily applies to everything our pathetic and disastrous joke of a president says and does:

    “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

  • The problem that Rabbi Salkin is pointing out is that Trump abandoned the promise he made in his well-received Holocaust Remembrance speech about not being silent in the face of evil. And, as Rothman pointed out, there’s a difference between working with anticommunist dictators — something we did throughout the (first?) Cold War — and embracing them wholeheartedly.